Since the 17th century, American Puritans suppressed any entertaining art, including theatre. They believed that the stage was not destined for the improvement of humanity. The Continental Congress adopted a proclamation resigning all kinds of extravagance and luxury, especially horse races. In Boston in 1750 the law prohibiting theatrical plays and other entertaining performances was passed. However, performances based on the Bible plots, were popular. THE DEVELOPMENT OF AMERICAN THEATRE
The author of the first published American play, Androthorus (1714), was Robert Hunter, the mayor of New York and New Jersey. Several plays appeared in the second half of the 18th century. During the Revolutionary War, the first professional American playwright William Dunlap appeared. Resisting the unsympathetic public attitude, theatre continued developing after the American Revolution, first with travelling English actors and then with American companies starting in Boston, Philadelphia and New York.
Favorable changes in American theatre were felt in 1915, when two acting companies, the Washington Square Players and the Provincetown Players were formed in Greenwich Village, New York. The latter one staged the first work of Eugene O’Neill. Soon, American playwrights of the 1920-1930s believed that drama should concern itself with sincere expression rather than attractive show. This current was strengthened with the serious ideas of Henrik Ibsen, and G. B. Shaw, the psychology of August Strindberg, and the symbolism of Maurice Meterlinck.
When the Great Depression crushed many hopes in the 1920s, many radically-minded companies took to propaganda plays. Clifford Odets’s (1906-1963) Waiting for Leffy (1935), which dramatizes a taxi-driver’s strike, backs up the idea that art should be a weapon. Two triumphant plays, The Glass Menagerie (1945), by Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), and All My Sons (1947) by Arthur Miller (1915-2005), were produced in the 1940s. The former introduced its audiences to a heightened, poetic realism in the study of troubled fugitive characters, the latter to a more intellectualized examination of ordinary people under social pressure.
Experimental productions, however, could no exist in the conventional atmosphere and too expensive conditions of Broadway of the 1940s-1950s, so they were done off Broadway, mostly in Greenwich Village. “Off-Broadway” served as an alternative center for both new and established playwrights. The premiere of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1956) in the Square Theatrical company gave the playwright a fresh public interest. Besides, many poets and fiction writers of the 20th century also wrote plays, among them Saul Bellow, E. E. Cummings, W. C. Williams, W. Faulkner, and Frank O’Hara. Their traditional output, as well as plays by C. Odets, T. Williams and S. Shepard, proved that drama may be self-sustaining branch in any national literature.