Maria Irene Fornes
Routledge – 2013 – 232 pages
Maria Irene Fornes is the most influential female American dramatist of the 20th century. That is the argument of this important new study, the first to assess Fornes's complete body of work.
Scott T. Cummings considers comic sketches, opera libretti and unpublished pieces, as well as her best-known plays, in order to trace the evolution of her dramaturgy from the whimsical Off-Off Broadway plays of the 1960s to the sober, meditative work of the 1990s. The book also reflects on her practice as an inspirational teacher of playwriting and the primary director of her own plays.
Drawing on the latest scholarship and his own personal research and interviews with Fornes over two decades, Cummings examines Fornes's unique significance and outlines strategies for understanding her fragmentary, enigmatic, highly demanding theater.
'In this excellent study, Cummings successfully argues Fornes's stature as "the most important unknown playwright in the United States" during the second half of the 20th century. He provides a comprehensive analysis of her career over four decades, demonstrating how her conjoined practices as playwright, director, and teacher form an organic whole and characterize her distinctive style of theater. Cummings analyzes and interprets all of Fornes's plays in a clear, accessible manner, affording a more detailed examination of what he terms the "key" plays--Promenade, Fefu and Her Friends, and Abingdon Square. Cummings situates Fornes's work and influence decade by decade, providing a portrait of the rapidly changing American theater from 1950 to 2000. He highlights Fornes's particular contributions to the Open Theatre, INTAR, and the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, among others. As a leading figure of the American avant-garde, Fornes was perhaps most influential as a playwright's playwright who was instrumental in shaping the careers of her more famous protégés, including Henry David Hwang, Eduardo Machado, and Sarah Ruhl. Appendixes detail Fornes's published plays and production history; the bibliography is solid. This is a fine volume. Summing Up: Highly recommended.' M.S. LoMonaco, CHOICE
Part I -- The 1960s
"Let me be wrong. But also not know it."
1 Getting started
Bohemian roots: growing up in Havana
Bohemian roots: settling in Greenwich Village
Tango Palace (1963)
A metatheatrical conceit
2 Off-Off Broadway: The Good Scene
Cino, Judson, La MaMa, and others
The Open Theatre connection
The Successful Life of 3 (1965)
The Office (1966)
Dr. Kheal (1968)
A Vietnamese Wedding (1967)
The Red Burning Light (1968)
3 Key play: Promenade (the apotheosis of Judson)
The Judson Poets' Theatre
Promenade (as a one-act in 1965)
Promenade (as a full-length in 1969)
Molly's Dream (1973)
Part II -- The 1970s
"If we're showing what life is, can be, we must do theatre."
4 Finding a way
New York Theatre Strategy
INTAR and the Hispanic Playwrights-in-Residence Laboratory
Eyes on the Harem (1979)
5 Key play: Fefu and Her Friends (turning over the stone)
Fefu and Her Friends: The Basic Action
Fefu and Her Friends: The experimental second act
Fefu and Her Friends: at At the Foot of the Mountain
Fefu and Her Friends: at the Yale Repertory Theatre
Part III -- The 1980s
"I have to learn how to lead my life."
Theater for the New City
Fondness for the Found
Evelyn Brown (A Diary) (1980)
A Visit (1981)
The Trial of Joan of Arc in a Matter of Faith (1986)
7 The PAJ Plays
The Danube (1983)
The "emotigraph" as unit of construction
The Conduct of Life (1985)
The rhetoric of space/the space of rhetoric
8 Key play: Abingdon Square (conquering the vagueness)
Lovers and Keepers (1986)
Abingdon Square: Genesis and production history
Abingdon Square: Marion as Fornes Innocent
Abingdon Square: the process of imagination
"The Poetry of Space in a Box"
Part IV -- The 1990s
"Where are we in relation to all this?"
9 The Night Plays
What of the Night? (1989)
Oscar and Bertha (1992)
Enter the Night (1993)
Manual For a Desperate Crossing (Balseros/Rafters) (1997)
Terra Incognita (1997)
10 Coming to an end
The Summer at Gossensass (1998)
Fornes and Hedda Gabler
Letters From Cuba (2000)
Drowning as paradigm
"This must be made by a person."
Scott T. Cummings is Chair of the Theatre Department of Boston College, where he directs plays and teaches courses in playwriting and dramatic literature. He is the author of Remaking American Theater: Charles Mee, Anne Bogart and the SITI Company, as well as numerous performance reviews, journal articles, and essays on contemporary American theater and drama.