The one-act play is to drama what the short story is to the novel. A one-act play is not an abbreviated drama. It has its laws. The one-act play has a single plot; it is either pure comedy or pure tragedy. The action is confined to a single place and the number of characters is limited. The simplicity of design and immediate impact are its characteristics. The one-act play observes brevity in the plot, in character, and in dialogue. As a short play, it automatically fits into the classical framework of the unities. The very nature of a one-act play demands concentration. As a result, the heightened emotions of” the one-actor may be poetical or intensely realistic. When it is poetical, it transcends reality and throws over the audience the spell of illusion through the music of words and the deepening sentiments.
The History of the one-act play dates from the days of Mystery and Miracle plays. They were several little plays combined to form a Cycle. The interlude of the fifteenth century was also brief. The Short Play disappeared with the coming of the great Elizabethan playwrights and reappeared only by the end of the 19th century. In modern times, initially, the one-act play was used as a ‘ curtain raiser’ before a full-length play. But the audience generally ignored it. Later two or three one-act plays were presented on the same evening as in the case of James Barrie’s one-act plays. Shaw also could occasionally confine to the narrow limits of the one-act play as in ‘The Man of Destiny’ and ‘The Dark Lady of the Sonnets’. Another great writer of one-act plays was Noel Coward who wrote the famous ‘ Tonight at Eight-Thirty’. The plot in a one-act play is confined to the most essential point of the Story. In the famous one-act play ‘The Bishop’s Candle Sticks’, we have the central incident of the stealing of the candlesticks. Other details are introduced indirectly and in a limited manner. A one-act play uses only a limited time for its presentation. Its characters are limited in number and its dialogue observes the economy of words. The most important aspect of a one-act play is the central sentiment and its racy and crisp dialogue.
The writer of one-act plays does not have the freedom which a writer of full-length plays enjoys. The one-act play imposes severe restrictions on the author. He must present the story and characters with suggestive strokes. He must use the dialogue carefully. With all these restrictions, the one-act play can still be profound, poetic, and subtle as we find in yeat’s ‘ The Land of Heart’s Desire’ or in J.M. Synge’s ‘ Riders to the Sea’. Though one-act plays are best suited for the exposition of comic themes, there are excellent one-act plays with tragic themes also. W.W. Jacob’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ and Synge’s ‘Riders to the sea’ are examples. Today one-act plays are supported by amateur dramatic societies and school and college troups. Some of the outstanding modern one-act plays are John Drinkwater’s ‘The Storm ‘, Galsworthy’s ‘The Little Man’, A.A. Milen’s ‘ The Man in the Bowler Hat’, J.B.Priestly’s ‘Mothers Day’ and Stanley Houghton’s ‘ The Dear Departed ‘.
Published by Ayisha Shabana…
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