The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence


Festival info

Nominated for a Drama League Award: Outstanding Digital Theater, Collection, or Festival!


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 a series 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.  


NOTE: Each play was released on the dates listed below and will be available to view until April 30, 2021. Patrons may purchase a full festival pass or choose individual plays.


If you have any questions regarding how to access your digital content and view the performances, we've created an FAQ page for you.



Learn more about the festival, read cast and creative bios, explore important acknowledgments, and more in the virtual program.




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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.  




Join us for the free post-show conversation, premiering Monday, November 16 here.

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. 



Join us for the free post-show conversation, premiering Monday, November 30 here.

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. 



Join us for the free post-show conversation, premiering Monday, December 7 here.

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.




Join us for the final free virtual conversation, premiering Monday, December 14 here.


We've put together a list of answers to help guide you through your digital content viewing experience.

Explore The FAQ


 The New Yorker
The Restlessly Inventive Plays of Adrienne Kennedy

The New York Times
A Trip Into The Otherworldly With Adrienne Kennedy As Guide

The Washington Post
Online Festival Hightlights The Powerful Plays of Undersung Dramatist Adrienne Kennedy

New Jersey Stage & Discover Jersey Arts' Culture Vultures
Playwright Adrienne Kennedy featured in a Virtual Festival at McCarter Theatre Center

Broad Street Review
McCarter and Round House Theatre present Adrienne Kennedy’s ‘He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box’: Dreams and Nightmares

Broad Street Review
Round House Theatre, Howard University, and McCarter present: "Sleep Deprivation Chamber"

Town Topics
McCarter Presents Online Festival of “The Work of Adrienne Kennedy”; Round House Theatre’s “He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box” Begins Series

Town Topics
"Sleep Deprivation Chamber" Continues Online Festival

The New York Times
Theater to Stream

Washington Post
Why haven't more people heard of Adrienne Kennedy? Round House Theater hopes to fix that problem.

DC Theatre Scene
Award-winning playwright Adrienne Kennedy finally gets her due, and debuts a new play in upcoming festival

An Online Festival Lets You Into Playwright Adrienne Kennedy’s Haunted World

The Washington Post
Adrienne Kennedy's New Play Is Utterly Unique

DC Metro Theater Arts
Adrienne Kennedy Festival Opens With Haunting Letters Between Lovers

BroadwayWorld DC
BWW Review: A Great Start to The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence Festival

The Undefeated
A Mother Gets Inducted Into The Movement in Adrienne Kennedy's Sleep Deprivation Chamber

BroadwayWorld DC
BWW Review: Sleep Deprivation Chamber at Round House Theatre

Rousuck's Review: Kennedy Fest at Round House

Virtual Play Festival in this week's 'Things To Do'

The Georgetowner
Weekly Arts Round Up

The Daily Princetonian
Intersections: What To Do This Weekend

Daughters of Lorraine 
When Form Meets Content

Times Square Chronicles
What To Watch To Take Away The Blues

This Week's Streaming Recommendations


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.