DRAMA IN THE FIRST QUARTER
OF THE 20TH CENTURY
the turn of the century the American stage came into its own.
Broadway stood on an equal footing with London and Paris. And
outstanding among the dramatists of the first decade of complete
independence was Percy Mackaye whose Scarecrow would still
furnish an excellent evening's entertainment. Then there was
Charles Rann Kennedy, an Englishman living in New York, whose
two dramas on religious themes, Servant in the House (1908)
and The Terrible Meek (1911), were among the most discussed
plays of their respective seasons. There was Israel Zangwill
whose Melting Pot struck an entirely new note and created
something of a furore in its day. There was the English success
by Jerome K. Jerome, also religious in theme . . . that Passing
of the Third Floor Back which probably owes its success more
to the compelling personality of the actor, the late Sir Charles
Forbes-Robertson, than to its dramatic excellence. And speaking
of plays on religious themes, there was at a much later date
Channing Pollock's excellent and entertaining drama, The Fool.
In the first quarter of the century there
were also two outstanding biographical plays: the Abraham
Lincoln created by the English playwright John Drinkwater,
and Disraeli by the English, Louis Parker.
In the matter of novelties two young playwrights,
Hazelton and Benrimo, collaborated on a play, Chinese in theme,
character, and manner of production, which they called The
Yellow Jacket and which enjoyed production on innumerable
foreign stages. In this classification, too, should be included
Louis Parker's altogether charming Pomander Walk.
In England John Masefield wrote The
Tragedy of Nan; Granville
Barker produced the somewhat heavy social comedy, Madras
House, the drama, Waste, and, in collaboration with
Louis Housman, the poetic drama, Prunella; the novelist,
Arnold Bennett, achieved in the collaboration, Milestones,
his one dramatic success; and the dramatic critic, William Archer,
refuted for all time the statement that dramatic critics are
gentlemen who cannot write playable plays with his successful
melodrama, The Green Goddess.
The first quarter century likewise brought
success to several women playwrights: Lulu Vollmer with Sun-up;
Susan Glaspell with her satire, Suppressed Desires,
and whose drama, Alison's House, won the coveted Pulitzer
Prize in 1930-31; Rachel Crothers with a long lis of successful
plays of which Nice People and Expressing Willie
are perhaps the best; Zoë Akins with Declassée and
Maurine Watkins with the first of the gangster plays, Chicago.
Then, too, there was Eugene
O'Neill, perhaps the first truly great American dramatist,
whose early works include Beyond
the Horizon (1920), Anna
Christie (1921), The
Hairy Ape (1922), and Desire Under the Elms
This article was originally
published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort
& Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935.