The modern drama is characterized by its unique subject matter like the romanticism of the poor, the strict depiction of real life and the use of symbols, imagery and metaphors. Although modern drama evolved over time, its theme of using theater to challenge and experiment upon social norms remained constant.
The first phase of modern drama began in the late 19th century with the rise of romanticism. Like other modernist plays, romantic productions focused on the stories of those who inhabited the lower rungs of the social ladder. However, where later modernist drama movements would attempt to portray these stories as truthfully as possible, romantic plays exaggerated, dramatized, warped and romanticized the character's lives for the theater.
Realism was the second phase of modern drama. Realism used the same subject matter as romanticism. However, the two movements differ in that realism did not attempt to romanticize its subjects lives. Realism theater sets, costumes and props, were made to mirror their real-life counterparts. Realism strived to eliminate the distance between the audience and the stage by making its productions mimic real life as close as possible.
Naturalism exhibits the same characteristics of realism. However, naturalist plays removed the dramatic elements of theater in an effort to present a real-life moment of its subjects. Naturalist plays were therefore considered "slice of life" plays because they rarely changed their settings, and the time span of the play mirrored the passing of time for the audience.