For this reason some critics claim that American drama was not born until the end of World War I (1914-1918).
By the end of the 19th century American drama was moving steadily toward realism, illuminating the rough or seamy side of life and creating more believable characters. Realism remained the dominant trend of the 20th century in both comedies and tragedies. American drama achieved international recognition with the psychological realism of plays by Eugene O’Neill and their searing investigation of characters’ inner lives. As the century advanced, the number of topics considered suitable for drama broadened to encompass race, gender, sexuality, and death.
Beginnings: 1600s AND 1700s
Because settlement was sparse and living conditions were arduous in the American colonies, little theatrical activity took place before the mid-18th century. The first-known English-language play from the colonies, Ye Bare and Ye Cubb (1665), is lost. The play’s existence is known as a result of the controversy it aroused in the Virginia Colony, where a lawsuit was filed to prevent the play from opening. Several colonies had passed antitheater laws based on a Puritan belief that the seventh of the Ten Commandments prohibited dancing and stage plays.
The oldest surviving American play is Androborus by Robert Hunter (1714). Hunter, the New York Colony’s governor, published the cartoonish play as an attack on his political enemies, despite New York’s antitheater law. Intended for a reading public rather than a viewing audience, it established a tradition of political satire that became common fare in American drama of the 1700s.
Before more American plays had appeared, a company of British professional actors established a touring circuit in the 1750s with an all-British repertory.