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The Adrienne Kennedy Reader

The Adrienne Kennedy Reader

Adrienne Kennedy
Introduction by Werner Sollors
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Adrienne Kennedy Reader
    Book Description:

    Introduction by Werner Sollors Adrienne Kennedy has been a force in American theatre since the early 1960s, influencing generations of playwrights with her hauntingly fragmentary lyrical dramas. Exploring the violence racism visits upon people’s lives, Kennedy’s plays express poetic alienation, transcending the particulars of character and plot through ritualistic repetition and radical structural experimentation. The Adrienne Kennedy Reader is the first comprehensive collection of works by one of our greatest living playwrights.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9170-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)
    Werner Sollors

    Adrienne kennedy’s work, presented in its first substantial collection here, has affinities to the work of Sam Shepard, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Wole Soyinka. Simultaneously, it echoes the entire dramatic tradition, from Greek tragedy to the theatre of the absurd, from Euripides to Shakespeare, and from Chekhov to Tennessee Williams. Inspired by the themes of Hollywood movies and by cinematic techniques, Kennedy’s highly acclaimed and frequently staged works have been praised as surrealistic dream plays, hauntingly fragmentary and nonlinear lyrical dramas, high points in the development of the American one-act play, and dramatic harbingers of...

  4. Because of the King of France
    (pp. 3-6)

    When my brother and I were children we had a cousin who ran away to the Virgin Islands. His name was Sidney.

    It was a great joke. Often at night when we’d be sitting telling ghost stories my brother would giggle and say, “suddenly from the haunted house there appeared Sidney back from the Virgin Islands.” My mother who would be sitting embroidering crisscrosses on towels, in absurd solemnity never failed to say, “I wonder why on earth that boy went to the Virgin Islands? Of all the places in the world.” This stately perplexity always collapsed my brother and...

  5. Adrienne Kennedy in One Act

    • Funnyhouse of a Negro
      (pp. 11-26)

      Funnyhouse of a Negrois perhaps clearest and most explicit when the play is placed in the girl Sarah’s room. The center of the stage works well as her room, allowing the rest of the stage as the place for herselves. Her room should have a bed, a writing table and a mirror. Near her bed is the statue of Queen Victoria; other objects might be her photographs and her books. When she is placed in her room with her belongings, then the director is free to let the rest of the play happen around her.

      Beginning:Before the closed...

    • The Owl Answers
      (pp. 29-42)

      She who is clara passmore who is the virgin mary who is the bastard who is the owl.

      Bastard’s black mother who is the reverend’s wife who is anne boleyn.

      Goddam father who is the richest white man in the town who is the dead white father who is reverend passmore.

      The white bird who is reverend passmore’s canary who is god’s dove.

      The negro man.

      Shakespeare, chaucer, william the conqueror.

      The characters change slowly back and forth into and out of themselves, leaving some garment from their previous selves upon them always to remind us of the nature of...

    • A Lesson in Dead Language
      (pp. 43-46)

      The scene is a classroom, bright. A greatwhite dog—the teacheris seated at a great dark desk. Seven girlpupilsare seated at ordinary school desks. They wear white organdy dresses, white socks and black shoes. Thepupilsmove stiffly. When thepupilswrite, they write with their arms on imaginary tablets. There are three blackboards, Stage Front, Left and Right.

      The statues of Jesus, Joseph, Mary, two Wise Men and a shepherd are on a ridge around the room. The statues are highly colored, wooden, and larger than thepupils. (Thewhite dogalso appears larger than...

    • A Rat’s Mass
      (pp. 47-54)


      Brother rat

      Sister rat

      Jesus, joseph, mary, two wise men, shepherd

      Brother rathas a rat’s head, a human body, a tail. sister rathas a rat’s belly, a human head, a tail. Rosemarywears a Holy Communion dress and has worms in her hair.Mass said in prayer voices that later turn to gnawing voices. They were two pale Negro children.

      Scene:The rats’ house. The house consists of a red carpet runner and candles. The light is the light of the end of a summer day.

      Brother ratis kneeling facing the audience.

      At the far left...

    • Sun Dedicated to Malcolm X
      (pp. 55-61)

      Note: movements

      Movements of the Man

      His orbiting

      Sun’s orbiting

      Movements of the Moon

      Movements of the Sun


      Revolving of the head

      Man. Flowers and Water

      (Steel wire appears encircling them.)

      The adoration of kings and a

      kneeling youth

      (Red flashes.)

      A madonna and a child, a man

      A madonna and a child, a man

      a madonna and a child and a

      unicorn a study of a kneeling angel

      (Red sun flashes top left. Moon image moves. manwatches the red sun, tries to move his arms upward toward it.)

      there exist landscapes flowers

      and water views of the...

    • A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White
      (pp. 62-78)

      A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and Whitewas done as a work in progress at the New York Shakespeare Festival in New York on November 5, 1976, with the following cast:

      NOTES: The movie music throughout is romantic.

      The ship, the deck, the railings and the dark boat can all be done with lights and silhouettes.

      All the colors are shades of black and white.

      These movie stars are romantic and moving, never camp or farcical, and the attitudes of the supporting players to the movie stars is deadly serious.

      The movie music sometimes plays at intervals...

    • Electra (Euripides)
      (pp. 79-98)

      The scene is outside the peasant’s cottage.It is night, a little before sunrise.

      chorus: Our ancient city Argos. The river. Inachus.

      It was here that King Agamemnon led his army forth and with ships of war set sail for Troy.

      And having killed the King of Troy and sacked that noble city he returned here to Argos. And on our temple walls hung high his trophies.

      Abroad he had had good fortune. But here in his own home he died by his wife Clytemnestra’s treachery, and her lover Aegisthus’s murderous hand.

      Now Agamemnon is dead.

      Aegisthus is king now...

    • Orestes (Euripides)
      (pp. 99-116)

      (Electraenters, haunted looking and wan, watching overorestes.Voices enter, sustained chord.)

      Chorus: After the murder Orestes collapsed.

      He lies in his bed seized by a raging fever.

      And driven on to madness by his mother’s ghost and Eumenides who pursue him.

      Six days since they sent her body to the pyre and six days he has not tasted food but lies there submerged in blankets.

      Sometimes he madly rises from bed crying out. The Argives have forbidden anyone to speak to them or shelter them.

      Today the Argives meet to decide whether they shall live or die and...

  6. An Evening with Dead Essex
    (pp. 117-136)

    An Evening with Dead Essexwas first performed in November 1973 at the American Place Theatre in New York. The production was directed by Gaby Rodgers, with a cast that included Mary Alice, Bill Cobbs, Sid Morgan Jr., Andre Mturni, Fred Seagraves, and Karma Stanley.

    The play was subsequently directed by Andre Mtumi at the Yale Repertory Theatre in March 1974.

    This play is dedicated to Mark Essex... and his family.

    All are blackexceptthe projectionist who is white.

    All preparations for scenes take a long time.

    Then there are voices of people down the hall and in the...

  7. The Alexander Plays

    • She Talks to Beethoven
      (pp. 139-150)

      First produced by River Arts in Woodstock, New York, and directed by Clinton Turner Davis in June 1989.

      Ludwig van beethoven

      Suzanne alexander A Writer

      The music in the piece should equal in length the text. Anonymous diary entries are from actual sources.

      Scene:Accra, Ghana, in 1961, soon after independence. It is early evening.

      Interior of a bedroom at house on the campus at Legon, a shuttered room, a ceiling fan, a bed covered with mosquito netting, a shelf of books over a small writing table, and a delicate blue phonograph. All windows except one are shuttered. That window...

    • Ohio State Murders
      (pp. 151-173)

      Ohio State Murderswas commissioned by the Great Lakes Theater Festival (Gerald Freedman, artistic director; Mary Bill, managing director) through a grant from the New Works Program of the Ohio Arts Council. The play received its world premiere at the Great Lakes Theater Festival on March 7, 1992, with the following cast:

      Directed by Gerald Freedman; set design conceived by Gerald Freedman and executed by John Ezell; projections by Kurt Sharp and Jesse Epstein; costumes coordinated by Al Kohout; lighting designed by Cynthia Stillings; sound design by Stanley J. M. Kozak.

      Suzanne alexander (1949-1952) The young writer as a student...

    • The Film Club (A Monologue by Suzanne Alexander)
      (pp. 174-181)

      Often when I’m despondent, I watch Bette Davis’s movies. Yesterday I started to make a list of them. While I wrote I found myself remembering when my husband, David, was detained in West Africa the winter of 1961. He was missing for fifteen months. Often evenings in Accra David read to me about methods of torture during imprisonment. It was from Fanon:

      The brutal methods which are directed toward getting prisoners to speak rather than to actual torture. There is a mass attack...”

      In that winter of 1961, David’s and my life changed. As did Alice’s, my sister-in-law’s.

      Alice and...

    • Dramatic Circle
      (pp. 182-196)

      A radio play commissioned by WNYC, New York City.Dramatic Circleis a dramatization of the events in the monologueThe Film Club.

      PLACE London, 1961

      Alice alexander: London, 1961. We were staying in Old Brompton Road waiting for David to come from Ghana.

      (Sound of clock striking.)

      Suzanne had been delirious the night before, sleepwalking, speaking lines from the historical letters of Napoleon and Josephine. Her breathlessness had become worse.

      Suzanne alexander: “I can only write you a word at five o’clock in the morning. I have beaten the Russians and taken two cannons and their baggage train and...

  8. Letter to My Students on My Sixty-first Birthday by Suzanne Alexander
    (pp. 197-227)

    The only thing holding me together was Teddy’s performance inHamlet. And my mother singing spirituals every morning as she dressed to go to the shopping center, putting on her London Fog raincoat and driving her 1979 Chevrolet down to Superior.

    That day the director ofOhio State Murders(a small man in enormous sweaters) said he didn’t need me at rehearsals. I was relieved. It would give me a chance to watch the rehearsals ofHamlet. I took the bus to Dayton and then to Yellow Springs.

    The theater department was on the edge of the campus, a gray...

  9. Motherhood 2000
    (pp. 228-233)

    Motherhood 2000was produced and commissioned by the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, for Winter’s Tales ’94, January 12 through January 23, 1994. The staged reading was directed by Michael Kahn.

    Mother/writer: I finally found the policeman who beat my son that January night in 1991. He ran a theater on the steps of the Soldiers and Sailors monument on Riverside Drive at 89th Street.

    Homeless people who had lived in the park under the 89th Street overlook now lived on 89th Street on the sidewalks, in the hallways of apartment buildings 311 and 145 Riverside Drive, as well...

  10. Secret Paragraphs about My Brother
    (pp. 234-238)

    There have been killings in Cambridge.

    They want me to help them find the murderer, but I can’t concentrate. The police feel there is a literary connection between the murders since all of those killed (except the nun from California) had belonged to an Upper West Side Video Club in Manhattan that had more than an ordinary number of writers as members. And at one time each had rented eitherThe VanishingorVertigo.

    It was the semester I dreamed of my son when he was sleepwalking. That was the winter before the summer of 1963 when my brother went...

  11. June and Jean in Concert (Concert of Their Lives)
    (pp. 239-261)

    A theatre piece with music fromPeople Who Led to My Playswith musical score and songs by Loren Toolajian. Directed by James Houghton. Premiered at the Signature Theatre Co., the Public Theater, New York City, Fall 1995.

    Additional music by:

    Wings Over Jordan

    Paul Robeson

    Judy Garland

    Frank Sinatra

    Nat King Cole

    Church Choir

    High School Choral Club

    June and jean, twins

    Their mother

    Their father

    Dead aunt ella

    Their brother, jackie

    Dr. benjamin mays, President of Morehouse College

    June’s ghost

    many other characters

    Easter, 1943

    Christmas Eve, 1942 (four months earlier)

    December, 1941

    November, 1974

    Spring, 1947


  12. A Letter to Flowers Dedicated to Dr. Joseph Kennedy
    (pp. 262-290)

    In my mid-sixties I found myself unable to adjust to my children not being near me. I often thought of not going on. Often in this mood I was perplexed and could not understand why people many times sought my advice on their lives.

    I asked myself that question.

    At this time my son Joe told me he was compiling a portfolio of flowers for the children at the Arlington, Virginia school where he was substitute teaching.

    “What about flowers you’ve seen in your travels?” I said. I reminded him of places he’d loved and visited when he was a...

  13. Sisters Etta and Ella (excerpt from a narrative)
    (pp. 291-299)

    Troupe was unable to stop Etta Harrison from leaving messages on his office machine about a coming murder. In July when he went into the office of his brownstone sometimes there were as many as five messages from her in one night.

    He’d forgotten about Ella and Etta Harrison in recent years. They weren’t prominent anymore in his circle, since the strangling incident and their public fights.

    He had been surprised to see that Etta was a member of the Vanishing Literary Club, until he learned she was an old friend of Jerry Loren’s and he was making an opera...

  14. Grendel and Grendel’s Mother
    (pp. 300-306)

    When my son Adam was in High School at Riverdale he owned a red paperback book ofBeowulf. Adam told me he didn’t understand this assignment and would I please look at the book and help him with a paper. When I was in college at Ohio State we had read a section of this savage story. But I had never read the entire text. Yet I’d always remembered Grendel and Grendel’s mother.

    I sat down on the edge of the bed to look at the first pages. A passage in the introduction set the stage.

    “They could see the...

  15. Copyright and Original Publication Information
    (pp. 307-308)

    “Because of the King of France” copyright 1960 by Adrienne Kennedy. Originally published inBlack Orpheus: A Journal of African and Afro-American Literature10 (1963).

    The following plays appeared inAdrienne Kennedy in One Act(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988):Funnyhouse of a Negro, copyright 1962 by Adrienne Kennedy;The Owl Answers, copyright 1963 by Adrienne Kennedy;A Lesson in Dead Language, copyright 1968 by Adrienne Kennedy;A Rat’s Mass, copyright 1967 by Adrienne Kennedy;Sun, copyright 1969 by Adrienne Kennedy.

    A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, copyright 1976 by Adrienne Kennedy;Electra; Orestes.An...

  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-309)