Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
From the beginning of her career, Adrienne Kennedy’s work has been viewed with great interest. Perhaps because of its imaginative use of the stage and its haunting, frightening obscurity, Funnyhouse of a Negro has remained one of her most highly regarded plays.
Early commentators tended to see Kennedy as an important African American dramatist who had begun her career at a time when many black writers were beginning to emerge in the United States. Later, she was viewed as an important female playwright who in many ways embodied and commented on the ideals of feminist thinkers. Both opinions are reflected in a variety of articles, most of which use Funnyhouse of a Negro to support their central arguments.
Kennedy has resisted defining herself as any particular type of writer, although she fully acknowledges the powerful influence of her own search for identity on her plays. Her interviews offer glimpses of a profoundly thoughtful and intuitive writer who is perhaps first and foremost a serious and gifted theater artist. Much of the later criticism, although tending to hark back to some of the political concerns of earlier commentators, focuses on the extraordinary and powerful techniques used in this play. Such techniques have led many to consider her to be an experimental playwright. The majority of Kennedy’s works have been presented, both in the United States and overseas, in small theaters, by nontraditional companies and avant-garde actors. Even though Kennedy’s work is not intended for Broadway and has had comparatively limited exposure, many critics regard Adrienne Kennedy, on the basis of Funnyhouse of a Negro and a few other plays, as one of the most important dramatists of the United States.