Playwriting in colonial Costa Rica was never recorded; therefore, its beginnings are placed in the nineteenth century, when the main themes were: religion, folklore and customs, and historical events. Some folkloric or "Costumbrista" authors and their works are: Carlos Gagini who wrote Los pretendientes (1890), Don Concepcion (1902) and El Candidato (1919), and Rafael Carranza, who wrote Un duelo a la moda (1880). During this time, theatrical pieces were characterized by humor and by the presentation of rural as well as urban characters, which were rather stereotypical.
Costa Rica National Theater
In Magdalena (1902), by Ricardo Fernandez Guardia, there is a more pronounced shift from the countryside to urban areas; the shift that occurs during this play is representative of the transition that the genre of theater is undergoing at the time, from a folkloric theme to a cosmopolitan one. Europe is seen in a contradictory light, since it serves as a model worth imitating (even in the arts), but it also represents a negative influence that threatens to "corrupt" the Costa Rican way of life. In 1906, Daniel Urena presents a piece that insists on defending conservative moral values, such as honor. In 1910, Ernesto Marten publishes Cuento de amor, which presents the clash of traditional values such as family unit and romantic love with newer values brought on by Capitalism and foreign investment in the country.
The evaluation of morality is continued by Jose Fabio Garner, who writes several plays during the 20's about social and family problems. He sheds light on delicate subjects that hadn't been approached by Costa Rican theater, like adultery, rape and even abortion. On the one hand, he can't trust the moral condition of the nation, but on the other hand, he supports social stereotypes which are a cause of this deterioration. Some of his obtuse views limit the role of women in Costa Rican society and cause her to be a victim of the social degeneration that he's denouncing.
During the late 1920's, Hector A. Castro Fernandez introduces European Vanguardist styles to Costa Rican theater. In "El punto muerto" (1938), he portrays an almost science-fiction and surreal work, which criticizes the dehumanization that results from the industrialism of nations. Other productive playwrights of the time were: Jose Marin Canas, Jorge Orozco Castro and M.G. Escalante. However, these authors didn't explore the Vanguardist style, like Castro, and remained aloof to European styles, like the Theater of the Absurd or Surrealist Theater.
After 1920 and early 1930's, theater production decreased severely. However, in 1950, several companies were formed, thus renewing artistic creation as well as the public's interest in theater. In 1950 the Teatro Universitario or the University's company was established, thus promoting the formation of young actors that would later become essential in this endeavor. In 1951 Alfredo Sancho founded his Teatro Experimental, which apart from interpreting universal plays, would produce Costa Rican pieces. During this decade several theater houses were also opened, like the Teatro Arlequin and Teatro Las Mascaras, a fact that points to the growing interest in theater by the public in general.
The sixties were also very productive years for the theater. The Catania brothers arrived to the country, bringing about an explosion of actors, directors and theater specialists. In 1969, the Department of Drama of the University of Costa Rica began functioning, and by this time it could be said that theater as an art form and a concrete activity had finally solidified. Some important playwrights that were "born" during this important time were: Alberto Canas, Samuel Rovinski and Daniel Gallegos. These authors and directors at times discussed themes that were serious and somewhat burdensome for the public's conscience, like adultery, abortion, existentialism and the manipulation and the exercise of power over others. Nevertheless, the public was ready for this heavy load.
Currently, part of the productions belongs to the classical theater production, including pieces by Shakespeare and classical Spanish authors. However, commercial theater is more popular, and it includes modern plays written by Costa Ricans and other Latin Americans. Some of the most popular plays could be considered intellectually "light", but they are extremely enjoyable and funny. Even if they aren't as serious as other performances, they are valuable in that they present fragments of contemporary Costa Rican reality. They are an important cultural text that also happens to entertain its audience.