Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Like most of Adrienne Kennedy’s plays, A Rat’s Mass is a curious blend of monologue and dream vision, informed by highly evocative symbolism and incantatory dialogue, laced with references to mythical and historical figures. Neither her most ambitious nor her most important, the play nevertheless is a good example of the kind of work that has earned Kennedy the acclaim of theater critics, scholars, and audiences. Like her better-known plays, A Rat’s Mass is concerned with the anguish of not belonging, with the pain of rejection.

Funnyhouse of a Negro (pr. 1962, pb. 1969), Kennedy’s best-known play and an Obie winner, reveals the confusion in the mind of Sarah, a sensitive black girl who finally commits suicide to escape the anguish of being black. In this play, ineffective religion is personified in an impotent black Jesus who appears in Sarah’s hallucinations but cannot help her because he, too, is black. In The Owl Answers (pr. 1963, pb. 1969),“SHE who is CLARA PASSMORE who is the VIRGIN MARY who is the BASTARD who is the OWL,” the main character of multiple selves, searches for her roots and a place where she belongs. Unfortunately, she belongs nowhere. She is the illegitimate child of a black cook and a wealthy white man, and the play attempts to resolve her ambivalence about her heredity and her love/hate relationship with the forbidden white world.

Since the 1980’s, Kennedy’s career...

(The entire section is 482 words.)