The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence

NOVEMBER 14 - DECEMBER 12, 2020

OVERVIEW

Hailed as “American theatre’s greatest and least compromising experimentalist” (New York Times), Adrienne Kennedy is one of the most prolific and widely studied living playwrights. Since bursting onto the scene in 1964 with Funnyhouse of a Negro, Kennedy’s enthralling lyrical dramas have influenced generations of storytellers, from Suzan Lori-Parks to Robert O’Hara, Shonda Rhimes to Jeremy O. Harris. Despite her outsized influence, three Obie Awards, and induction into the Theater Hall of Fame, Adrienne Kennedy is not a household name. This festival is a celebration of why she should be.

McCarter and Round House shine a light on four deeply personal stories from Kennedy’s astonishing body of work with four weeks of virtual theatrical experiences and dynamic conversations, offering audiences the opportunity to discover Kennedy’s singular voice—a startling mix of the surreal with the all too real.  

 

Tickets will be available to purchase through McCarter soon.

NOTE: Each play will be released on the dates listed below and will be available to view for a limited time. Patrons may purchase a full festival pass or choose individual plays.

 

 

He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box 

 

It is 1941, and Kay and Chris are in love. Yet the letters they exchange are not tender professions, but painful reminiscences—of Chris’ wealthy white father who laid the architecture for local segregation, of Kay’s brutalized Black mother whose death remains a mystery, and of the myriad forces that separate them. Written in 2018, Adrienne Kennedy’s newest work is a brief but expansive memory play that conjures “dread, romance and a tragic surrealism all at once” (New York Times). He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box is a heartbreaking collage of family memories, historical specters, and theatrical allusions, hypnotically woven together with a poetry that is distinctively Kennedy’s own.  

 

 

Sleep Deprivation Chamber 

 

“I’m an American citizen, could you please let me up and breathe?” Teddy Alexander gasps out these words to the police officer who has beaten, dragged, and pinned him in the driveway of his family’s Arlington home—all because of a broken taillight. Teddy is a young Black college student studying theatre, but his senior year becomes a waking nightmare when the officer accuses him of assault. Written by Adrienne Kennedy and her own son, Adam, the semi-autobiographical drama shifts between Teddy’s trial and the unrelenting letters his sleepless mother writes in his defense. Although it won the Obie Award for Best New American Play nearly 25 years ago, Sleep Deprivation Chamber is a chilling meditation on race and powerlessness that remains painfully relevant today. 

 

Ohio State Murders 

 

When asked by Ohio State University to speak about the violent imagery in her work, Suzanne Alexander answers with her own story of brutality and betrayal. The accomplished writer attended Ohio State in the 1950s, but instead of academic sanctuary and self-discovery, Suzanne experienced a dark landscape of pain—not only exploitation, kidnapping, and murder, but also the insidious violence of segregation, ostracization, and misogynoir. Blending captivating monologue with haunting memories, Ohio State Murders is a poignant reminder of human cruelty, past and present. 

 

Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side

 

Etta and Ella Harrison are astoundingly gifted scholars, deeply connected sisters, and dangerously bitter rivals. They frequently write and teach together, and even their separate works are unnervingly similar, often sourced from their own family history. Now, after a lifetime of competition, they are on the verge of destroying each other. Adrienne Kennedy intricately blends monologue, dialogue, voiceover, and prose to create an experience that is part experimental play, part narrative thriller, and wholly unforgettable. Set against the gothic backdrop of their academic New York world, Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side is a taut, kaleidoscopic tale of ambition and madness—brought to theatrical life for the very first time. 

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ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT

Award-winning playwright, lecturer, and author Adrienne Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh in 1931 and attended Ohio State University. Her plays include Funnyhouse of a Negro (Obie Award), June and Jean in Concert (Obie Award), A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, A Rat's Mass, The Owl Answers, Motherhood 2000, Electra and Orestes (adaptation), She Talks to Beethoven, An Evening with Dead Essex, A Lesson in a Dead Language, and The Lennon Play. She is the recipient of an Obie Award for Sleep Deprivation Chamber, which she co-authored with her son Adam. It premiered at the Public Theater and was produced by Signature Theatre Company, which devoted an entire season to Ms. Kennedy's work.

Other awards include a Guggenheim award, the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, and the American Book Award for 1990. Her published works include In One Act, Alexander Plays, and Deadly Triplets, all published by University of Minnesota Press, and People Who Led to My Plays (a memoir), originally published by Knopf and now in paperback by Theatre Communications Group, which will also publish He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box and Other Plays in fall of 2020.

Her plays are taught in colleges throughout the country, in Europe, India, and Africa. She has been a visiting lecturer at Yale University, New York University, and the University of California at Berkeley, where she was Chancellor's Distinguished Lecturer in 1980 and 1986. She was also commissioned to write plays for Jerome Robbins, the Public Theater, Mark Taper Forum, Juilliard School, and the Royal Court in England.

Ms. Kennedy has lived in Africa, Italy, and London and last fall was a visiting professor in Harvard University's English Department.