Have you ever skilled the acquainted unfamiliarity of desires? That quixotic sense of déjà vu that comes from snippets of reminiscence, stray ideas, recurring pictures stolen from the day or drawn wholly from the creativeness — all jigsaw-puzzled collectively to kind a portrait of a sense, a sensation, a perception or worry.
Name Adrienne Kennedy the grasp dream weaver. The playwright, greatest identified for the 1964 “Funnyhouse of a Negro,” has a prolonged C.V. of performs and honors, together with Obie Awards, a Guggenheim and a spot within the Theater Corridor of Fame. Her title crops up in chapters in regards to the Black Arts motion, alongside the playwrights Amiri Baraka and Ed Bullins.
Her otherworldly work deserves its personal quantity. But Kennedy, now 89, is usually shelved among the many ranks of the “celebrated” and the “influential” who’re hardly ever produced.
That’s a part of the motivation behind the Spherical Home Theater’s digital competition “The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Affect,” that includes the mid-period works “Ohio State Murders” and “Sleep Deprivation Chamber,” the more moderen “He Introduced Her Coronary heart Again in a Field” and the world premiere of “Etta and Ella on the Higher West Aspect.”
In a sequence of austerely staged streaming productions, Spherical Home, primarily based within the Bethesda, Md., space, is showcasing Kennedy’s uncanny means to seize a way of untethered Blackness, disconnected from time, area and an immutable identification.
In different phrases, Kennedy’s Black characters by no means merely exist in a single place, or in a single second. They’re cleaved by historical past, institutionalized oppression and violence, and her narrative constructions — filled with leaps in time, fast shifts in setting, consistently altering views and characters who embody disparate identities directly — mirror the complexities of that actuality.
If that sounds a bit heady, it’s meant to be. Kennedy’s work is rarely simple, and by that I imply conventional, with conservative three-act constructions and chronological storytelling.
Kennedy moderately loves us to observe characters share correspondence, as in “He Introduced Her Coronary heart Again in a Field,” which opened at Theater for a New Viewers in 2018. This transient one-act tragedy is comparatively easy: In 1941 Georgia, a younger biracial lady named Kay (an elegantly spellbinding Maya Jackson) and a younger white man named Chris (a fetching Michael Sweeney Hammond), the son of a landowner who segregated their city, plan to marry as soon as Chris makes it as an actor in New York.
The play consists of the letters they exchanged; Jackson and Hammond learn from stands on a stage, and scene adjustments are indicated by fantastically designed miniatures of buildings and trains which they maintain as much as the digicam.
However the disconnect between Kay and Chris comes right down to greater than their bodily distance; their letters really feel like damaged conversations, by no means on the identical airplane of understanding. Nicole A. Watson’s understated course captures Kennedy’s love of the fragmentary, shuttling us between Kay’s world and Chris’s — his, earnest and naïve; hers, dreamy and aloof, drawn to the previous whereas residing within the current.
Considered one of her fixations: the thriller behind her mom’s loss of life — suicide, or homicide? — stemming from her relationship with a white man. All of the whereas, Kennedy notes in her sometimes exact, poetic stage instructions, Kay, on a practice trip to go to Chris in New York, is being watched by his father. The ending is a case of historical past repeating itself.
In Kennedy’s work Blackness exists in a type of time loop, trapped within the tragedies of the previous. It’s why “Sleep Deprivation Chamber,” co-written along with her son Adam P. Kennedy, feels prescient — although it was first produced in 1996.
Within the semi-autobiographical work, directed by Raymond O. Caldwell, Suzanne Alexander (Kim James Bey), a author, professor and Kennedy stand-in who reveals up in different performs, recounts when her son Teddy (Deimoni Brewington) was the sufferer of police brutality and but accused of assaulting an officer.
The telling of the occasion is fractured amongst totally different views (Suzanne, Teddy, Teddy’s uncle, Teddy’s father, the officer); elsewhere (Ohio, D.C., Virginia); and at totally different occasions — in the course of the incident, throughout police interrogations, within the courtroom.
Suzanne shares the letters she writes to each politicians and mates in Teddy’s protection, and gives symbol-heavy reveries. Hints of the surreal are appropriate for this sort of story, a nightmare from Black America’s previous that can also be Black America’s current.
The character of Suzanne reveals up once more in “Ohio State Murders,” from 1992, which begins along with her working towards a chat she’s going to ship in regards to the “violent imagery” in her work. There are two Suzannes on this play, dexterously directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton: one who tells the story right this moment (Lynda Gravatt, a bit shaky on the supply) and one we see prior to now (a youthful, poised Billie Krishawn), and Kennedy strikes freely between them. As soon as once more, time folds in on itself, as Suzanne recounts an affair with a white professor whereas she was an undergraduate and the following homicide of the toddler twins she had by him.
“Etta and Ella on the Higher West Aspect” is the most recent Kennedy work to point out how she conflates totally different characters, locations and occasions. A narrator (the charismatic Caroline Clay, underneath the delicate course of Timothy Douglas) sits at a desk on an in any other case empty stage, telling a narrative delivered in numbered sections, every made up of quick sentences and fragments, a few of which repeat like a refrain.
Twin sisters, Etta and Ella, each writers, dwell their lives in double, one accused of mimicking and plagiarizing the opposite — till one dies and the opposite is left haunted.
Even at a mere 35 minutes in size, “Etta and Ella” is essentially the most enigmatic of the bunch, and essentially the most blatantly literary: The textual content isn’t a monologue however is moderately simply labeled “narrative”; on the web page it appears like a piece of fiction that usually reads like a poem. There are the inevitable Kennedyesque signposts: Etta’s child daughters are killed “by the English professor who was their father,” who then kills himself — the identical tragedy that befalls Suzanne in “Ohio State Murders.”
And Etta and Ella argue as a result of they write the identical tales, with the identical character names; one is called Suzanne. Are they two people or two aspects of 1 individual? Is Suzanne the story created by Etta and Ella, or are Etta and Ella merchandise of the thoughts of Suzanne?
Are all of them one, just like the protagonist in “Funnyhouse,” who can by some means be Queen Victoria and Jesus and an actual Black lady residing within the twentieth century, suddenly?
And who’re all of those ladies in relation to the actual story of the ever elusive playwright?
Within the very construction of her interrelated works, Kennedy refuses a singular definition of Blackness. The one fixed is violence, as a result of Blackness in America is a situation of violence — an identification splintered by a tradition that declares it at greatest irrelevant and at worst harmful.
So she crafts this situation right into a language — damaged and free-floating and multitudinous — and speaks it again to her viewers. Sometimes it’s a bramble, in its dreaminess extra sensation than sense. However usually it’s a daring rendezvous with fact. And in a rustic the place whether or not Black lives even matter is up for debate, fact is rarely so simple as we’d hope.
The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Affect
All reveals streaming on demand by Feb. 28; tickets obtainable by Feb. 21; roundhousetheatre.org