Fornes, Maria Irene (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Maria Irene Fornes 1930-
(Also rendered as Maria Irene Fornés) Cuban-born American playwright and librettist.
The following entry presents an overview of Fornes's career through 2001. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 39 and 61.
In a career spanning over forty years, Fornes has been celebrated as a groundbreaking playwright within the theatrical world, yet she has received scant attention from mainstream critical and popular audiences. Since the 1960s, Fornes has been at the forefront of avant-garde, off-off-Broadway experimental theater. As a director of her own plays, Fornes has achieved a level of artistic control over her work that emphasizes her inventive staging and nontraditional theatrical techniques. She has been widely praised for her use of postmodern theatrical forms, such as her “collage technique,” by which she draws from a multiplicity of cultural texts to formulate the content of her plays. Fornes has also attracted notice for the feminist perspective that informs much of her work, most notably her plays Fefu and Her Friends (1977), Mud (1983), and The Conduct of Life (1985). Her contribution to American theater has been recognized with an unprecedented eight Obie (Off-Broadway theater) awards as well as an Obie award for her overall sustained achievement.
Fornes was born on May 14, 1930, in Havana, Cuba, to Carlos Luis and Carmen Hismenia Fornes. After her father died in 1945, she moved with her mother and sister to the United States, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951. From 1954 to 1957, Fornes lived in Paris, studying to become a painter. However, after attending a French production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Fornes decided to devote her creative energies toward playwriting. Upon returning to the United States, she worked for three years as a textile designer in New York City. The Widow, Fornes's first professionally produced play, was staged in 1961. Fornes acted as the director for many of her subsequent works, including There! You Died (1963; later retitled Tango Palace, 1964), The Successful Life of 3: A Skit in Vaudeville (1965), and Molly's Dream (1968), among others. In 1973 she founded the New York Theatre Strategy, which was devoted to the production of stylistically innovative theatrical works. Fornes has held teaching and advisory positions at several universities and theatrical festivals, such as the Theatre for the New City, the Padua Hills Festival, and the INTAR (International Arts Relations) program in New York City. She has received eight Obie awards—in such categories as distinguished playwriting and direction and best new play—for Promenade (1965), The Successful Life of 3, Fefu and Her Friends, The Danube (1982), Mud, Sarita (1984), The Conduct of Life, and Abingdon Square (1987). Fornes has also received numerous other awards and grants for her oeuvre, including Rockefeller Foundation Grants in 1971 and 1984, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972, National Endowments for the Arts grants in 1974, 1984, and 1985, an American Academy and Institute of Letters and Arts Award in Literature in 1986, and a Playwrights U.S.A. Award in 1986. She has also produced several original translations and adaptations of such plays as Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding (1980), Pedro Calderon de la Barca's Life Is Dream (1981), Virgilio Pinera's Cold Air (1985), and Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (1987).
Fornes's early plays are characterized by allegorical qualities, such as nonspecific settings, archetypal characters, and absurd situations. Tango Palace concerns an allegorical power struggle between Isidore, “an androgynous clown,” and Leopold, “an earnest youth.” The symbolic interactions between Isidore and Leopold—whose relationship alters between father-son and teacher-student—include a tango lesson and a trip to a bullfight. The Successful Life of 3 features characters named He, She, and 3, who meet in a doctor's office and become involved in a love triangle. Their archetypal relationship is delineated through a series of short, unrelated sketches in which the sense of disconnection helps explain the dynamics of their love. Promenade, a musical comedy of manners, contains perhaps Fornes's strongest social criticism to date. The plot follows two guileless, lower-class prisoners—105 and 106—who escape from their jail cell in a quest to find the evil they know to exist in the world, but have never seen. Their flight leads them to direct confrontation with the wealthy for the first time, and 105 and 106 learn that the rich are cruel, while the poor are wealthy in spirit and kindness. In the conclusion, the prisoners willingly return to the “freedom” of their cell. Another of Fornes's favorite satirical targets is popular culture, and she often employs ironic reversal to illustrate the influence it has on the American psyche. In Molly's Dream, for example, a waitress falls asleep on the job and dreams herself into the melodramatic movies of the 1940s. Fornes parodies and mocks the romantic conventions of the era, as Molly refuses to break into song when music swells dramatically and interrupts a torch song about abusive love to explain the implausibility of the situation in her actual life.
Fefu and Her Friends, Fornes's most recognized and popular work, represents a new development in her playwriting, moving toward characters, settings, and situations that are more realist in nature. The play revolves around eight female friends who have gathered at a New England country home for a reunion weekend in 1935. However, the friends soon become wrought with tension, which eventually degenerates into a violent frenzy, culminating with murder. During the second half of the play, the audience is invited to step onto the set and move from room to room, in order to watch scenes that take place in different parts of the house. Through a blend of quick humor and stream-of-consciousness dialogue, Fefu and Her Friends illuminates the concerns and social ills of the Depression era from a female perspective. Mud, also grounded in realist theatrical techniques, is set on an Appalachian farm, where Mae, her husband Lloyd, and Henry, who becomes Mae's lover after Lloyd is accidentally crippled, live in a malaise of gloom and ignorance. After Mae realizes that knowledge and communication are the keys to personal power, she prepares to leave the stifling farm, but the inarticulate Lloyd kills her in a rage. A number of Fornes's plays treat themes of sexual politics and the failure of communication. The Danube centers upon Paul and Eve, whose difficultly communicating is punctuated by the broadcasting of a foreign language instruction tape following each argument. The title character in the musical Sarita is an adolescent Cuban girl from the South Bronx who harbors a self-destructive, unrequited love for a young man. Confused by contradicting Cuban and American values and unable to stay away from the boy, Sarita ultimately stabs him to death. The Conduct of Life focuses on the personal and sexual life of Orlando, a Latin American soldier whose duty is torturing prisoners for the military government. Rather than showing the audience the particulars of Orlando's job, Fornes conveys his heartless temperament by depicting his violent relationship with his wife, whom he harasses and ridicules, and his twelve-year-old female servant, whom he rapes and enslaves. Through the link between Orlando's private and public lives, Fornes comments on the brutality of political oppression.
Set in New York City in 1905, Abingdon Square imparts the sense of stagnation felt by Marion, a fifteen-year-old girl married to a middle-aged man. Marion escapes her confining world through sexual fantasies, and when a young man helps her discover her true self, Marion begins to acknowledge the importance of her own needs and desires. Oscar and Bertha (1991) is set in the home of an adult brother and sister who live together. Their lives are altered by the arrival of Eve, a woman who has answered their advertisement for a live-in housekeeper. The sibling rivalry between Oscar and Bertha, which has continued to develop and worsen since their childhood, is piqued by their competitive vying for Eve's affection. Offering a unique perspective on gender relations and gender identity, Enter the Night (1993) follows three characters—a nurse, a man whose lover has died of the AIDS virus, and a woman suffering from heart disease. In one scene, two of the characters reenact a moment from D. W. Griffith's 1919 silent film Broken Blossoms with the man taking on the role that was originally played by the famous actress Lillian Gish. Fornes utilized her personal experiences as a Cuban-American immigrant as the foundation for Letters from Cuba (1999). The protagonist, Fran—a Cuban immigrant living in New York—receives regular letters from her brother, Luis, who remained in Havana. Through their missives, Fornes examines the effect of both Fran and Luis's separate lives on their family and each other.
Despite her accomplishments, Fornes has not received significant public attention. Critic Don Shewey has described her as “one of the best-kept secrets of the American theater.” Fornes has been widely celebrated by theater professionals and critics for her experimental techniques, postmodern form, feminist perspective, and blending of realism with elements of allegory. A number of scholars have discussed the allegorical qualities of Fornes's plays, which feature archetypal characters and address broad, universal themes. Sally Porterfield has asserted that, “[t]he universe of Fornes's artistic imagination seems to be formed by a distillation of universal experience … When we meet these archetypal characters and situations within the strange and exotic world of her drama, it becomes an eerily unexpected and moving encounter.” Fornes has also won praise for the effective realism of the emotional content of her plays and the various ways in which she combines theatrical form and dramatic content to present critical examinations of women's everyday experiences, especially within the domestic sphere. Feminist academics have particularly singled out Fefu and Her Friends for presenting a unique and often-lacking feminist perspective on an important era of world history. While some have lauded Conduct of Life for its avoidance of didacticism and strong theatrical impact, others have criticized the play for its brutal subject material and unsympathetic characters. Additionally, some reviewers have argued that Fornes's experimental narratives are often obtuse and merely exercises in style. However, critics have continued to regard Fornes as one of the most original voices in contemporary American theater.
The Widow (play) 1961
There! You Died (play) 1963; retitled Tango Palace, 1964
Promenade (libretto) 1965
The Successful Life of 3: A Skit in Vaudeville (play) 1965
The Office (play) 1966
The Annunciation (play) 1967
A Vietnamese Wedding (play) 1967
Dr. Kheal (play) 1968
Molly's Dream (play) 1968
The Red Burning Light; or, Mission XQ3 (play) 1968
*Promenade and Other Plays (plays) 1971
The Curse of the Langston House (play) 1972
Dance [with Remy Charlip] (play) 1972
Aurora (play) 1974
Cap-a-Pie (play) 1975
Washing (play) 1976
Fefu and Her Friends (play) 1977
Lolita in the Garden (play) 1977
In Service (play) 1978
Eyes on the Harem (play) 1979
Evelyn Brown: A Diary (play) 1980
A Visit (play) 1981
The Danube (play) 1982
Mud (play) 1983
No Time (play) 1984
Sarita (libretto) 1984
The Conduct of Life (play)...
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SOURCE: Fornes, Maria Irene, and Scott Cummings. “Seeing with Clarity: The Visions of Maria Irene Fornes.” Theater 17, no. 1 (winter 1985): 51-6.
[In the following interview, originally conducted on May 23, 1985, Fornes discusses the development of her career as a director and playwright, as well as the stylistic elements of her plays.]
1985 was a banner year for Maria Irene Fornes. She has, by her own admission, “been receiving a lot of praise lately … and awards.” To a small cadre of supporters and critics, the recognition is overdue. She is one of the few ‘first generation’ off-off-Broadway playwrights to remain consistently active there for the past 25 years. In that time, she has gone through several ‘styles’ and one prolonged drought. In 1977, Fefu and Her Friends signalled an important breakthrough. Five years later, the Village Voice awarded her an Obie for Sustained Achievement, but not until the past year has attention begun to spread beyond the downtown coterie to the regional theaters, the foundations, the academy; if she was not earlier, Irene Fornes is now a major voice in American drama. The following interview was conducted by Scott Cummings, along with Edit Villarreal, a former student of Fornes, at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village on May 23, 1985.
[Cummings]: You set out to become a painter initially. How did you...
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SOURCE: O'Malley, Lurana Donnels. “Pressing Clothes/Snapping Beans/Reading Books: Maria Irene Fornes's Women's Work.” Studies in American Drama, 1945-Present 4 (1989): 103-17.
[In the following essay, O'Malley explores Fornes's representation of women's attitudes toward housework in Fefu and Her Friends, Mud, and The Conduct of Life, concluding that Fornes views housekeeping as a positive, ritualized act of “self-knowledge and love.”]
Barbara Walker, in her autobiographical The Skeptical Feminist, explores women's predetermined roles in a patriarchal society. She writes that the slotting of women into the traditional modes of mother/homemaker/wife is an insidious form of enslavement by the male wishing to assert a false dominance. This enslavement includes a steady schedule of repetitive and unrewarding tasks or jobs, commonly called “women's work.” Walker states that although men have traditionally regarded such duties as natural pleasures of the woman,
the real reason women undertake the demanding and demeaning tasks in a violent, nightmarish household is hardly that they find it natural, but rather that they feel trapped. The average woman's socialization in patriarchal society points her toward wifehood as the only job she is fit to do.
In the more recent work of...
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SOURCE: Wolf, Stacy. “Re/Presenting Gender, Re/Presenting Violence: Feminism, Form and the Plays of Maria Irene Fornes.” Theatre Studies 37 (1992): 17-31.
[In the following essay, Wolf argues that the form, as well as the content, of Fornes's plays make possible a feminist interpretation of the violence that pervades much of her work. Wolf asserts that Fornes's plays “re-present violence in order to point to its gendered construction.”]
In a recent article in The Women's Review of Books, Marilyn French writes:
We cannot prove that actual violence toward women is affected by its depiction in film, television, advertisements, comic books, and literature. … But widespread fictional presentation of male violence toward women does legitimate it, reasserting through art a right held by law until the twentieth century—the right to beat, torture, and kill the women they ‘owned’—wives, daughters, slaves and concubines.1
French's argument places itself on the cusp between effect and legitimation: between the notions that art convinces men that they should do violence to women, and tells them that what they do is already acceptable. Although she says that we ‘cannot prove’ a causal relationship between the depiction and commission of violence, she envisions a passive spectator, a receptor of the images who...
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SOURCE: Marranca, Bonnie. “The State of Grace: Maria Irene Fornes at Sixty-Two.” Performing Arts Journal 14, no. 2 (May 1992): 24-31.
[In the following essay, Marranca observes that Fornes's plays explore the spiritual lives of women and the consequences of their various life-choices.]
Early in Abingdon Square a young woman says to an inquisitive friend, “You have to know how to enter another person's life.” In many ways that rule of etiquette has shaped the theatre of Maria Irene Fornes whose profound theme has always been the conduct of life.
This is particularly true of Abingdon Square in which she creates a universe more Catholic than any of the other worlds of her plays. The teenage Marion marries a loving older man, she has an affair with another man, a child with a third, descends into a personal hell, and in the end nurses her husband after his stroke out of a sense of compassion and remembered love. At a time when so much writing about women (and men) celebrates the joys of sexual freedom, Fornes is writing about sin, penance, forgiveness, the power of love. She does not deny her characters the choice and excitement of self-discovery in transgression—in this case, adultery—but concerns herself instead with the repercussions of such liberating acts. Abingdon Square then is a counter-reformation for our ideological age in which responsibility for...
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SOURCE: Kiebuzinska, Christine. “Traces of Brecht in Maria Irene Fornes' Mud.” The Brecht Yearbook 18 (1993): 153-65.
[In the following essay, Kiebuzinska discusses the influence of playwright and dramatist Bertolt Brecht on the feminist elements of Mud.]
The plays of the Cuban-American playwright and director, Maria Irene Fornes, illustrate effectively Andrzej Wirth's observation of the paradoxical situation of “Brecht reception without Brecht.”1 Fornes comes to the theater with a background in the visual arts and traces her interest in the theater from the time she saw Roger Blin's production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot as an art student in Paris. This experience led her to Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio where she studied playwrighting and directing. Though the aesthetics of the Method seem rather remote from Brechtian theatrical practices, Brecht's techniques of Verfremdung have become the universal language of contemporary theater, irrespective of ideological contexts in which montage, epic narration or foregrounded theatricality are practiced. Consequently, this paradox of Brechtian reception suggests, as Marc Silberman mentions, an “epistemological decentering” of Brecht's theory and practice.2
In reference to interpreting the reception of historical events Brecht himself observed that an “image that gives historical...
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SOURCE: Cummings, Scott T. “Fornes's Odd Couple: Oscar and Bertha at the Magic Theatre.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 8, no. 2 (spring 1994): 147-56.
[In the following essay, Cummings critiques a 1992 Magic Theatre production of Oscar and Bertha, noting that Fornes's works “present some of the most poignant and painful aspects of being human in an abstract, almost pure, form.”]
Maria Irene Fornes calls her play, Oscar and Bertha, “an exaggerated close-up, in a way an almost microscopic view of an extremely basic emotional situation.” The basic situation is sibling rivalry and the particular exaggeration here, which works to both comic and pathetic effect, is simply this: although Oscar and Bertha are adults, they behave like absolute children. Their mutual suspicion and animosity is so intense and so unchecked by the restraints of mature behavior that every interaction they have quickly devolves into verbal or physical combat. If their mother was around, they would be sent to their rooms.
After the typically long gestation period for a Fornes play, Oscar and Bertha premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in March 1992, on a bill with the curtain-raiser Drowning, Fornes's contribution several years back to Orchards, the anthology of Chekhov short story adaptations commissioned by Anne Cattaneo for the Acting...
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SOURCE: Rabillard, Sheila. Review of Enter the Night, by Maria Irene Fornes. Theatre Journal 46, no. 2 (May 1994): 283-84.
[In the following review, Rabillard praises a 1993 New City Theater production of Enter the Night, asserting that the central theme of the play is the characters' desire to “ease one another's pain.”]
Enter the Night, written and directed by Maria Irene Fornes, received its world premiere 16 April 1993 at Seattle's New City Theater. Commissioned by the resident company, Theater Zero, the drama, originally entitled Dreams, began as a series of monologues that came to Fornes between sleep and waking. As she assembled these fragments, the shape of Enter the Night began to appear: a delicate triangle involving three friends—Tressa, a nurse who tends the dying; Jack, a gay man mourning the death of his lover from AIDS; and Paula, a woman threatened by bankruptcy and a potentially fatal heart disease. Still a rough draft when Fornes began to work with the three-member cast, the play developed in keeping with what Fornes, once a painter, has called her collage technique: incorporating material from her subconscious; from the culture's collective memories of Hollywood, Shakespeare, and Christianity; and from chance discoveries. (Among these were a nurse's diary found at an auction; a newspaper account of an eighteenth-century Chinese scholar;...
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SOURCE: Farfan, Penny. “Feminism, Metatheatricality, and Mise-en-scène in Maria Irene Fornes's Fefu and Her Friends.” Modern Drama 40, no. 4 (winter 1997): 442-55.
[In the following essay, Farfan analyzes the feminist elements of Fefu and Her Friends, asserting that Fefu “posits postmodern feminist theatre practice as a constructive response to the psychic dilemmas of the play's female characters.”]
The first time that Maria Irene Fornes attended a rehearsal of one of her plays, she was amazed to be informed by the director that she should not communicate her ideas about staging directly to the actors but should instead make written notes that they would discuss together over coffee after rehearsal. This exclusion of the playwright from the rehearsal process seemed to Fornes “like the most absurd thing in the world.”1 As she later commented,
It's as if you have a child, your own baby, and you take the baby to school and the baby is crying and the teacher says, “Please I'll take care of it. Make a note: at the end of the day you and I can talk about it.” You'd think “This woman is crazy. I'm not going to leave my kid here with this insane person.”2
Since her initial theatrical experience, Fornes has directed many of the first productions of her own work, having...
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SOURCE: Rabillard, Sheila. “Crossing Cultures and Kinds: Maria Irene Fornes and the Performance of a Post-Modern Sublime.” Journal of American Drama and Theatre 9, no. 2 (spring 1997): 33-43.
[In the following essay, Rabillard argues that Fornes's plays combine postmodern techniques of distancing the audience with dramatic scenes of emotional transcendence.]
Maria Irene Fornes' recent play, Enter the Night, is situated in the intersections between “high art” and “popular culture”; “mediatized” and “live” performance; cultural assimilation and nightmares of miscegenation. While such intersections have become familiar territory for post-modern interrogation, Fornes draws from the ruptured boundaries of late capitalism a means to rearticulate a language of desire in the face of human suffering. The most striking manifestation of Fornes' delicately transgressive dramaturgy is her binding of post-modern techniques that point out the limits of representation to her concern with classic questions of constructing an emotional sublime. This is the curious conjunction that I want to consider: whether, in a “mediatized culture” (to borrow Baudrillard's term), through pastiche and cultural recycling, Fornes can discover the possibility of psychic coherence. If the term “sublime” seems almost anachronistic here, its employment is intentional for it posits the strongest possible...
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SOURCE: Gargano, Cara. “The Starfish and the Strange Attractor: Myth, Science, and Theatre as Laboratory in Maria Irene Fornes's Mud.” New Theatre Quarterly 13, no. 51 (August 1997): 214-20.
[In the following essay, Gargano comments that Fornes's theatrical technique in Mud is analogous to ground-breaking developments in scientific theory. Gargano asserts that Fornes “uses the paradigm of the theatre as potential to demonstrate the inevitable connection between our art, our learning, and our social artifice.”]
What we are discussing … is the relation between theory, experiment, and nature. … Nature is too big, too complicated, too intricately structured, too subject to uncontrollable forces, for us to understand it in one go. The laboratory experiment is the intermediary between reality and theory—between the natural world and humankind's mental picture of how the natural world works. The aim of a laboratory experiment is to isolate some small fragment of theory and test it to destruction.
Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice: The Mathematics of Chaos, p. 304
There has been a recent proliferation of plays, books, and articles dealing with the relationship between the new physics, chaos theory, and art.1 Leonard Shlain demonstrates the way that artists have always anticipated scientific...
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SOURCE: Koppen, Randi. “Formalism and the Return to the Body: Stein's and Fornes's Aesthetic of Significant Form.” New Literary History 28, no. 4 (autumn 1997): 791-809.
[In the following essay, Koppen compares and contrasts the formal and aesthetic qualities of the dramatic works of Fornes and Gertrude Stein.]
“To open the question,” as Shoshana Felman once prefaced a famous volume, let me begin with a modernist text on form. In The Meaning of Art, the art critic Herbert Read writes: “Form, though it can be analyzed into intellectual terms like measure, balance, rhythm and harmony, is really intuitive in origin; it is not an intellectual product. It is rather emotion directed and defined, and when we describe art as ‘the will to form’ we are not imagining an exclusively intellectual activity, but rather an exclusively instinctive one. … Frankly, I do not know how we are to judge form except by the same instinct that creates it.”1 It is the thinking, reading, and judgment of form that will concern me in the following pages, in an inquiry with a specific as well as a more general motivation. Generally (and schematically) speaking, it appears that current critical approaches to form run the risk of falling into either of two traps: the modernist trap of mysticism/metaphysics, or the postmodernist trap of the empty gesture, the attention to form which has exhausted, or is...
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SOURCE: Shewey, Don. “Her Championship Season.” Advocate (9 November 1999): 74-6.
[In the following essay, Shewey discusses the New York Signature Theatre Company's retrospective series on Fornes's plays, commenting that the playwright is “one of the best-kept secrets of the American theater.”]
Maria Irene Fornes is one of the best-kept secrets of the American theater. Hardcore musical theater buffs may recall her giddy 1969 collaboration with Al Carmines, Promenade, for which New York's prestigious Promenade Theater is named. Otherwise, the 69-year-old Cuban-born lesbian playwright is virtually unknown to the general public.
Nevertheless, Fornes is revered by theater artists, among them gay Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights Tony Kushner and Paula Vogel. In fact, Vogel will go so far as to say that “in the work of every American playwright at the end of the 20th century, there are only two stages: before she or he has read Maria Irene Fornes—and after.”
The operative word there may be read. Although Fornes has worked steadily for more than 35 years, her plays have been widely published yet seldom performed outside New York. But now that situation may be changing. New York's influential Signature Theatre Company, which every year devotes its entire season to a single playwright, has chosen to greet Y2K with a Fornes retrospective....
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SOURCE: Porterfield, Sally. “Black Cats and Green Trees: The Art of Maria Irene Fornes.” Modern Drama 43, no. 2 (summer 2000): 204-15.
[In the following essay, Porterfield discusses Fornes's theatrical technique and her work as a director of her own plays. Porterfield argues that Fornes's dominant thematic focus is “the search for truth, for wholeness, for understanding of our attempts to make sense out of a seemingly random existence.”]
“I didn't think I was a playwright before I started writing. I was a painter, but it's the same thing. You like so much the way that little tree looks beside that house and so you draw it.”1 Maria Irene Fornes indicates a tree just visible from the window of the small Greenwich Village café where we sit over coffee. It takes me a moment to find the tree because of the surrounding tangle of people, traffic, trash cans, and buildings. But there it is: a spindly little maple, leaning at a rakish angle toward one of the area's shabby-genteel apartment buildings.
Then the picture comes into focus and I see it through the eyes of the playwright. An isolated snapshot, apart from the world around it, the tree stands as a gallant symbol of life amid the ruins.
The image also seems to embody an art that, like Fornes's little tree, emerges from seeming chaos as a miracle of selection that is the essence of life as she...
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SOURCE: Drukman, Steven. “Notes on Fornes (with Apologies to Susan Sontag).” American Theatre 17, no. 7 (September 2000): 36-9, 85.
[In the following essay, Drukman critiques the unique stylistic qualities of Fornes's plays, which make them both critically acclaimed and difficult to analyze.]
Last year New York's Signature Theatre dedicated its season to the plays of Maria Irene Fornes. The roster included David Esbjornson's lapidary staging of Mud (and the curtain-closer Drowning); the New York premiere of the 1993 Enter the Night, confidently staged be newcomer Sonja Moser; and a world premiere of Letters from Cuba, directed by Fornes herself. Several features, reviews and profiles appeared in magazines and newspapers, each one looking back on Fornes's extraordinary career. In these articles, critics spilled a lot of ink about how Fornes is a theatrical treasure who has never received the recognition she deserves.
After 30 years or more, this “caviar to the general” lament has become the way Maria Irene Fornes gets written about. Most critics hold forth on other critics who haven't given the proper amount of critical praise to, or haven't grasped the proper critical context for, Fornes's work. Of course, when these more “enlightened” critics boot up, they, almost neurotically, avoid talking about the art itself. At least the very...
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SOURCE: Murray, Piper. “‘They are Well Together. Women are Not’: Productive Ambivalence and Female Hom(m)osociality in Fefu and Her Friends.” Modern Drama 44, no. 4 (winter 2001): 398-415.
[In the following essay, Murray presents a critical discussion on the themes of female friendship and female desire in Fefu and Her Friends.]
Participating in your economy, I did not know what I could have desired. Made phallic, whether by procuration or by delegation, I forgot what my jouissance could have been.
—Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions (61)
Maria Irene Fornes's Fefu and Her Friends leaves us with a vision that is nothing if not ambivalent. Coming as the climax of eight women's efforts to throw off “the stifling conditions” (45) that have brought them together, Julia's sympathetic death—apparently the result of a shot fired by Phillip's unsympathetic gun—shocks and confuses. In an effort to explain this strangely ambiguous ending, many critics have looked to one of its most obvious roots: the conflicted psyches of Fefu and her friends. In such an interpretation, Julia's real and hallucinated struggle, however dramatic, becomes just an extreme example of the pain and paralysis that all the women experience. All of these women, it would seem, have internalized the kind of judges Julia hallucinates in...
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Delgado, Maria M., and Caridad Svich, editors. Conducting a Life: Reflections on the Theatre of Maria Irene Fornes. Lyme, N.H.: Smith and Kraus, 1999, 313 p.
Delgado and Svich offer a collection of tributes and essays focusing on Fornes, written by such noted figures as Terrence McNally, Susan Sontag, Tony Kushner, and Caryl Churchill.
Morales, Ed. “Steaming in Cuban.” American Theatre 17, no. 5 (May-June 2000): 28-30.
Morales examines three plays which explore the Cuban-American immigrant experience—Fornes's Letters from Cuba, Nilo Cruz's Two Sisters and a Piano, and Esther Suarez-Duran's Banos Publicos, S.A.
Robinson, Marc, editor. The Theater of Maria Irene Fornes. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, 276 p.
Robinson presents a diverse selection of critical essays analyzing different aspects of Fornes's oeuvre.
Solomon, Alisa. “Long Night's Journey into Daze.” Village Voice 48, no. 23 (4-10 June 2003): 56.
Solomon critiques a 2003 Soho Rep production of Molly's Dream, commenting that the production's flaws are masked by Fornes's “so quintessentially and pleasurably theatrical” script.
Worthen, W. B. “Still Playing Games: Ideology and Performance in the Theater...
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