Author William Dean Howells, considered the Father of American Realism, defines realism as a “truthful representation of life.” The striving towards verisimilitude in performance affected stage design, costumes, lighting, direction and acting style. Watching a Realist play, the spectator is observing a “slice of life,” meaning an authentic portrayal of an event in a character’s life, which requires less suspension of belief from the audience.
Although examples of Realism in plays can be seen as early as the Civil War era, it wasn’t until the turn of the century that realistic plays became the popular style of theatrical entertainment. As the twentieth century progressed, Realism was met with competition from other movements, but is the most enduring movement in
modern theater and remains dominant.
American Realist playwrights include Eugene O’Neill (Beyond the Horizon), Terrence McNally (Sweet Eros), Neil Simon (The Odd Couple), David Mamet (American Buffalo), Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman), Tennessee Williams (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), August Wilson (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), and Amiri Baraka (Dutchman).
Sweet Eros, Next, and Other Plays. New York: Random House, .
This collection of six of McNally’s early plays is the five-time Tony Award-winner’s first published book.