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Intersecting Boundaries

Intersecting Boundaries: The Theatre of Adrienne Kennedy

Paul K. Bryant-Jackson
Lois More Overbeck
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt562
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  • Book Info
    Intersecting Boundaries
    Book Description:

    Although Adrienne Kennedy's plays are highly regarded in the world of American theater, this is the first major critical study of her work. Topics covered encompass all of Kennedy's writing for the theater and explore her innovative dramaturgy in the context of its intersections with African, modern, postmodern, and contemporary drama, African-American consciousness, and feminist theory in theater. In addition to examining the incredible variety of Kennedy's work and suggesting critical strategies that will support fuller study of her dramatic writing, Intersecting Boundaries demonstrates that only through a collage of critical models can the complexity and richness of her postmodern dramaturgy be illumined. Interviews with persons directly involved in the productions of Kennedy's work emphasize the central role theater artists have had in shaping her plays--ultimately suggesting useful approaches for the production of these compelling dramas. Contents Part I: The Life and Work *Adrienne Kennedy: An Interview. Paul K. Bryant-Jackson and Lois More Overbeck _x000B_*People Who Led to My Plays: Adrienne Kennedy's Autobiography, Werner Sollors _x000B_*The Life of the Work: A Preliminary Sketch, Lois More Overbeck Part II: Intersecting Dramatic Traditions *Kennedy's Travelers in the American and African Continuum, Paul K. Bryant-Jackson _x000B_*Diverse Angles of Vision: Two Black Women Playwrights, Margaret B. Wilkerson _x000B_*Adrienne Kennedy and the First Avant-Garde _x000B_*Adrienne Kennedy Through the Lens of German Expressionism, William R. Elwood _x000B_*Surrealism as Mimesis: A Doctor's Guide to Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro, Robert Scanlan Part III: Changing Boundaries: Interpretive Approaches *Locating Adrienne Kennedy: Prefacing the Subject, Kimberly W. Benston _x000B_*Mimesis in Syncopated Time: Reading Adrienne Kennedy, Elin Diamond _x000B_*(Hetero) Sexual Terrors in Adrienne Kennedy's Early Plays, Rosemary Curb _x000B_*Kennedy's Body Politic: The Mulatta, Menses, and the Medusa, Jeanie Forte _x000B_*"A Spectator Watching My Life": Adrienne Kennedy's A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, Deborah R. Geis _x000B_*Critical Reflections: Adrienne Kennedy, the Writer, the Work, bell hooks Part IV: Performance as a Collaborative Art *An Interview with Michael Kahn, Howard Stein _x000B_*An Interview with Gaby Rodgers, Howard Stein _x000B_*An Interview with Gerald Freedman, Paul K. Bryant-Jackson _x000B_*An Interview with Billie Allen, Paul K. Bryant-Jackson and Lois More Overbeck _x000B_*Developing a Concert for the Spoken Voice: Solo Voyages, and an Interview with Robbie McCauley, David Willinger _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8410-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Paul K. Bryant-Jackson and Lois More Overbeck
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. PART I The Life in the Work

    • 1 Adrienne Kennedy: An Interview
      (pp. 3-12)
      Paul K. Bryant-Jackson and Lois More Overbeck

      Adrienne Kennedy was interviewed by Bryant-Jackson and Overbeck on February 24, 1990, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

      ADRIENNE KENNEDY: Joe [Chaikin] is...very important because when people had totally forgotten about me, in the mid-seventies, Joe was one of the people saying quite extravagant things about me, and working on my plays at his workshops. What he did withMovie Star[1976] was a total moving image; it just never stopped moving. It was a masterpiece the way he did it.

      LOIS OVERBECK: So it was choreography?

      KENNEDY: No. It was the process of the Open Theater, Joe’s troupe....Joe and Michael Kahn, as...

    • 2 People Who Led to My Plays: Adrienne Kennedy’s Autobiography
      (pp. 13-20)
      Werner Sollars

      Adrienne Kennedy’s highly acclaimed and often enigmatic plays have received various interpretations ever sinceFunnyhouse of a Negrowas co-produced by Edward Albee at the East End Theatre in New York City on January 14, 1964, and won the prestigiousVillage VoiceObie award. Undoubtedly Kennedy’s dramatic works incorporate materials from the author’s life, her readings, and her cultural and social experiences. Kennedy said in an interview, “Autobiographical work is the only thing that interests me, apparently because that is what I do best.”¹ The publication of Kennedy’s experimental autobiography,People Who Led to My Plays(1987), makes possible a...

    • 3 The Life of the Work: A Preliminary Sketch
      (pp. 21-42)
      Lois More Overbeck

      There are no consolidated archives of Adrienne Kennedy’s manuscripts or of the production history of her plays. Many of the plays had their first appearance in workshop productions with brief runs and without critical notice. Experimental theatres seldom had resources to record the development of their productions when funding for their season or even the next play was a priority. When available, programs, reviews, and interviews have been consulted to gain a sense of production values and directorial choices. While these are inadequate resources for a comprehensive stage history, the resulting overview will suggest directions for further research.¹

      Kennedy indicates...

  6. PART II Intersecting Dramatic Traditions

    • 4 Kennedy’s Travelers in the American and African Continuum
      (pp. 45-57)
      Paul K. Bryant-Jackson

      I have been in dialogue with the plays of Adrienne Kennedy for many years; although words are not to be entirely discounted, images represent the essence of the dialogue. Images form the core of Adrienne Kennedy’s theatre. Kennedy achieves her greatest impact in the arresting, though critically resisting, images that surround her major protagonists as they endlessly and restlessly move along a continuum of time, matter, and space. InFunnyhouse of a Negro,Sarah’s hair continues to fall out as she moves along an African/European/American cultural and historical continuum. InThe Owl Answers,Clara’s metamorphosis into an owl replicates Sarah’s...

    • 5 Diverse Angles of Vision: Two Black Women Playwrights
      (pp. 58-75)
      Margaret B. Wilkerson

      One can never know fully the intricacies and complexities of the creative mind. For the mind not only records the events of one’s life, but projects itself into a fictive, imaginative realm capable of clarifying the deeper truths of existence. The minds of black women have been bombarded by the cruelties and absurdities of racism and sexism, which, when added to the normal assaults from the external world, become forces strong enough to destroy the creative spirit or to make withdrawal from the world tempting, if not necessary. Yet from black American women have come some of the most incisive...

    • 6 Adrienne Kennedy and the First Avant-Garde
      (pp. 76-84)
      Elinor Fuchs

      There are some writers in the theatre, not many, whose works read as if they were scooped up by radiotelescope. One finds the widest range of previous sources, entire traditions, reflected in their intensely concentrated fields. This is the experience of reading Adrienne Kennedy. Whatever angle I engage her from, Kennedy, like Kilroy, has been there. Her echoes and intimations of the European avant-garde alone span nearly a century of that tradition in both theatre and criticism, from the symbolists to (among others) the surrealists, Lorca, Artaud, Genet, and Roland Barthes. This essay will suggest my own sense of Kennedy’s...

    • 7 Adrienne Kennedy through the Lens of German Expressionism
      (pp. 85-92)
      William R. Elwood

      Adrienne Kennedy was born approximately eleven years after German expressionism had yielded to the more rationalneue Sachlichkeitor neorealism in the history of German theatre. Kennedy’s first produced work,Funnyhouse of a Negro(1962), places her canon forty-two years after the German movement had ceased to exist as a discrete aesthetic for the theatre. It would not seem plausible that expressionism could exert an influence on an American playwright so many years later, especially with other important movements of the theatre intervening. Yet the influence is there; the more formalist European aesthetic has found its way into the richly...

    • 8 Surrealism as Mimesis: A Director’s Guide to Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro
      (pp. 93-110)
      Robert Scanlan

      Postmodernism is the aesthetic fashion of these times, and a revival of interest in Adrienne Kennedy’s work has occurred under its rubric. What follows is a structural, formal analysis ofFunnyhouse of a Negro,a work praised in its time (it won an Obie Award for Michael Kahn’s production in 1964) but infrequently mentioned since, and a notorious example of “nonlinear” playmaking: antirealistic, phantasmagoric, and surrealistic. Its apparent collage of image, text, idea, and disrupted fragments of story looks now like an early example of the postmodernist style. While “postmodern” may be a more accurate label for a later play...

  7. PART III Changing Boundaries:: Interpretive Approaches

    • 9 Locating Adrienne Kennedy: Prefacing the Subject
      (pp. 113-130)
      Kimberly W. Benston

      Writing about Adrienne Kennedy is not unlike being written by her: one feels always already estranged from any clear point of departure, though a plethora of intellectual, psychic, and political themes suggest themselves as equally plausible centering concerns. Self-narration as crisis and quenchless need, the crossings of race and gender in the construction of identity, arresting but enigmatic juxtapositions of spectacle and verbal image, echoing ruptures between various historical and cultural formations—these are among the more encompassing issues that lend Kennedy’s work its characteristic aura of irresolvable disturbance.¹ The ensuing temptation for the reader trapped in this funnyhouse of...

    • 10 Mimesis in Syncopated Time: Reading Adrienne Kennedy
      (pp. 131-141)
      Elin Diamond

      “As long as I can remember I've wanted to be Bette Davis.” (Pause.] “1 still want to be Bette Davis.” I am quoting Adrienne Kennedy, at least I think I am. On the printed page, packed snugly between diacritical marks, these words are granted an undeserved truth. For in her public interview at my university an unusual format that Kennedy prefers to lecturing we, neither my colleague who asked questions nor I who sat eavesdropping in the audience, thought to bring a tape recorder, the machine that would play back to us, in a reassuring space far from the seductions...

    • 11 (Hetero) Sexual Terrors in Adrienne Kennedy’s Early plays
      (pp. 142-156)
      Rosemary Curb

      Adrienne Kennedy creates decentered subjects who are never fully present at any moment as individuals. Rather her characters exist as conscious sites of invasion and colonization, battlegrounds for wars of race, class, and gender in contemporary U.S. culture. In her early plays, which focus on fragmented female characters, Kennedy deconstructs ordinary narrative process. The lack of linear narrative and of integrated characters disrupts the spectator’s scopophilic expectations and denies the spectator’s entry into the text.

      In the disturbing no-exit-but-death-or-madness narratives of four 1960s plays(Funnyhouse of a Negro, The Owl Answers, A Rat’s Mass, and A Lesson in Dead Language),...

    • 12 Kennedy’s Body Politic: The Mulatta, Menses, and the Medusa
      (pp. 157-169)
      Jeanie Forte

      Rather than viewing Kennedy’s protagonists as tragic, lost figures who cannot overcome the condition of their color, I am interested in how these figures demonstrate points of resistance against racist assimilation, how they operate both to frame and deconstruct history and perceptions of race. In this effort, which is more attempt than execution, the hope is to initiate an undoing of racist and/or limited interpretations of Kennedy’s work.

      In a recent essay, Sondra O’Neale charges that most fiction by black American women has presented a very narrow and mostly negative portrait of black women, showing their readers primarily alienated, warped,...

    • 13 “A Spectator Watching My Life”: Adrienne Kennedy’s A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White
      (pp. 170-178)
      Deborah R. Geis

      Adrienne Kennedy’s 1976 play AMovie Star Has to Star in Black and Whiteis located at a complicated point between the sardonic detachment of the Hughes poem and Morrison’s cautionary description of Pauline Breedlove’s immersion in Hollywood ideology. The “Leading Roles” of Kennedy’s drama are played by actors “who look exactly like” Bette Davis, Paul Heinreid, Jean Peters, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Shelley Winters, while the “real” characters (designated as the “Supporting Roles”) are the mother, father, and husband of Clara, a thirty-three-yearold black woman.¹ Clara herself, the ostensible heroine, only plays “a bit role,” as the narrating...

    • 14 Critical Reflections: Adrienne Kennedy, the Writer, the Work
      (pp. 179-186)
      bell hooks

      Gloria Watkins: Speak about the appeal of Adrienne Kennedy, her plays. bell hooks:¹ Kennedy’s work seduces readers by its appeal to the enigmatic. She shrouds the work in mystery. And yet, since much of it is autobiographically based, the reader senses that something is revealed and not revealed at the same time. It is this characteristic that gives the work its strange yet familiar appeal. There is always something in it that you recognize, and something that catches you unaware. Kennedy’s work problematizes the question of identity, black subjectivity, in ways that do not allow for a simplistic understanding of...

  8. PART IV Performance as a Collaborative Art

    • 15 An Interview with Michael Kahn
      (pp. 189-198)
      Howard Stein

      Howard Stein interviewed Michael Kahn on October 9, 1990. Michael Kahn is artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger Library in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the Acting Department of the Juilliard Theatre Center, and serves on the faculty of New York University’s Graduate School of the Arts. He directed Adrienne Kennedy’s ObiewinningFunnyhouse of a Negro(1964) produced by Edward Albee, and directed Kennedy’sElectraandOrestesat Juilliard in November 1980 and again in April 1981. Kahn served as artistic director of the Acting Company (1978-90) and is now a member of its board of trustees;...

    • 16 An Interview With Gaby Rodgers
      (pp. 199-205)
      Howard Stein

      Gaby Rodgers started her acting career in the early days of television. One of her first roles was the lead on “Philco Playhouse,” opposite Sydney Blament. In her fifteen years in television, she had a chance to work with some of the best directors and writers. On Broadway, she appeared in Mr.Johnson, Heavenly Twins,andHidden River.She won the Theatre World Award for Mr.Johnson.Also, Shirley Booth gave her the Barter Theatre Award. Rodgers’s directing started at the American Place Theatre, with Bruce J. Friedman’s first play,Twenty-Seven Pat O’Brien Movies.She directed Adrienne Kennedy’sAn Evening...

    • 17 An Interview with Gerald Freedman
      (pp. 206-215)
      Paul K. Bryant-Jackson

      Gerald Freedman is regarded nationally for productions of classic drama, musicals, operas, new plays, and television specials. As a leading director of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival from I960 to 1971 (the last four years as artistic director), he directed Adrienne Kennedy’sCities in Bezique (Two Journeys of the Mind in the Form of Theatre Pieces):The Owl Answersand ABeast’s Story(1964), coartistic Director of John Houseman’s The Acting Company (1974-77), and artistic director of the American Shakespeare Theatre. An Obie Award winner, Freedman made theatre history with his premiere of the landmark rock musical,Hair,which...

    • 18 An Interview with Billie Allen
      (pp. 216-223)
      Paul K. Bryant-Jackson and Lois More Overbeck

      On February 22, 1990, Bryant-Jackson and Overbeck interviewed Billie Allen, who created the role of Sarah in the performance ofFunnyhouse of a Negro(1964) produced by Joseph Papp and directed by Michael Kahn. She also directed the play at the New York School of the Arts (1989).

      Billie Allen began her career as a classically trained dancer and performed in Broadway musicals, television specials, concerts, and opera here and in Europe. Along with her role inFunnyhouse of a Negro,she is remembered as an actress for her performance in ARaisin in the Sunon Broadway and in...

    • 19 Developing a Concert for the Spoken Voice: Solo Voyages, and an Interview with Robbie McCauley
      (pp. 224-230)
      David Willinger

      All theatrical adventures are determined as much by what happens between the people working on them as by the quality of the material, the ideals that impel them, or the good intentions with which they are begun. Such was the case in the creation ofSolo Voyages.

      Joe Chaikin suggested that we fashion a one-person performance from fragments of Adrienne Kennedy’s plays for the actress, Gloria Foster. I, at the time, had heard of Adrienne Kennedy, but had never read anything she had written, works that were not readily available in print. After the first page, I became an instant...

  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 231-236)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 237-240)
  11. Index
    (pp. 241-254)