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Characteristics of Non-Realistic Drama

Non-realistic drama defines a theatrical style that revolves around wide-ranging existentialist philosophies and theories regarding the absurdity of human life. In an attempt to express the point that, in a godless universe, human life is futile, these plays reveal to the audience a world in which a man is born with himself and nothing else.

Non-Realistic World

There is no such thing as a logical event or realistic occurrence in non-realistic drama. Instead, the play focuses on a human being trapped in a meaningless and impossible world, desperately trying to get through the illogical and absurd situations he is faced with.


The characters in non-realistic theatre portray lost souls drifting through an incomprehensible world. In this strange world, they attempt to get by, by abandoning sense, logic and reason because they are seen to be useless. Though the character’s thoughts and actions are almost nonsensical, they always have something to say, or a message to convey. The central characters always have a conflict to face or a crisis to deal with due to the meaningless world that surrounds them. For example, in Eugene Ionesco’s drama, “Rhinoceros,” the main character, Berenger, is the only inhabitant of a small, French town who does not morph into a rhinoceros, and struggles with this fact throughout the play.


Any form of traditional plot structure is very rarely considered when it comes to non-realistic, absurd theatre. Often, the plot seems more like repetitive routine. Themes such as absence, emptiness, mystery and supernatural events are explored in many non-realistic plots. For example, in “The Chairs” an old couple invites a group of people into their home, only to discover that the guests are invisible, and they are faced with a large group of seemingly empty chairs signifying “absence.” Another example can be taken from Ionesco’s “How to Get Rid of It,” in which a couple must deal with a mysterious corpse that is steadily growing bigger. Ionesco never reveals anything about the corpse, its background or why it is growing. It's simply left as a mystery to the audience, possibly signifying the oblivious nature of life and our struggle to understand it.


The language used in non-realistic drama is not always meaningless and nonsensical. Much of the dialogue contains vague and obscure messages through representation. However, when the language loses its ability to represent, it plays with meaninglessness and nonsense interaction for rhythmical and musical effect. Many non-realistic plays such as “The Bald Soprano” contain large amounts of dialogue without weight, supposedly lacking meaning and making no human connection. It is said the nonsense language is merely a demonstration of the limits communication when searching for truth in an indifferent universe. It is also widely interpreted that often, when a character fails to connect through speech, it is a representation of the disconnection and alienation we face in life.

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