Everything plus the kitchen sink
Have you ever seen a particularly compelling kitchen sink drama? Tell us here!
Kitchen sink realism, also known as kitchen sink drama, is a style of play that realistically depicts the gritty lives of its working-class characters. It frequently involves crying, shouting, broken dreams, and a lot of mundane domestic duties, such as the washing of grimy dishes in a broken-down kitchen sink that clearly didn’t come from Crate and Barrel.
A British cultural movement led by so-called “angry young men” in the ’50s, kitchen sink realism spawned art, books, films, and plays that were hyper-naturalistic and centered on downtrodden anti-heroes who were disillusioned with society and railing against their lot in life. John Osborne’s 1956 drama Look Back in Anger, which was recently revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company, is typically considered the first entry in the genre. A volatile love triangle straddling social classes, it features all of the hallmarks listed above, especially lots of yelling. It’s hard to imagine back to a time when audiences were shocked to see characters onstage doing everyday chores and engaging in quotidian conversation, but it was groundbreaking for the age.
Though the Britons pioneered and perfected it, a number of plays penned across the pond could be considered kitchen sink dramas, too, notably Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge (which, after failing on Broadway, premiered in its two-act form in London in 1956), Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, and Frank D. Gilroy’s Pulitzer-winning The Subject Was Roses from 1964. One could even argue that Clifford Odets’ 1935 play Awake and Sing! is a precursor to these later tales of struggling blue-collar families. But the language in Odets’ Depression-era drama is more heightened; it aims for poetry not everyday parlance.
These days, realism in the theatre is so commonplace, it usually takes an experimental show like, say, YOUARENOWHERE to send us reeling. But with income inequality and 99% outrage currently boiling over, it seems inevitable that we’ll see a fresh crop of socially conscious (if not necessarily realistic) plays by a new generation of angry young artists of all genders, soon.
— Raven Snook