Critical Context

Tales of the Lost Formicans is not only the most widely acclaimed and frequently performed of Congdon’s plays; it is also an excellent introduction to her work. It displays, in abundance, all of the hallmarks of her style and examines the major themes common to her work. Her plays, for instance, often focus on contemporary social mores. Casanova (pr. 1989, pb. 1991) surveys the history of sexuality, and the short play New (pr. 2001) looks at the relationship between the United States and Asia. Her pieces are also distinguished by her mordant humor, which often serves to leaven her take on dark subjects, such as the threat of nuclear holocaust, the subject of No Mercy (pb. 1985, pr. 1986). Most important, Tales of the Lost Formicans displays Congdon’s inventive approach to staging and her experiments with innovative narrative structures.

It is Congdon’s creative narrative techniques that have won her the reputation as one of the most significant contemporary American playwrights. Her use of montage, multiple narratives, and nonlinear plots—all fully evident in Tales of the Lost Formicans—makes her a quintessentially postmodern writer. Indeed, her work in the late 1980’s established her as one of the first important American postmodern dramatists. As such, she served as an important bridge between the avant-garde playwrights who came of age in the 1960’s, such as Sam Shepherd and Edward Albee, and more innovative later playwrights such as Tony Kushner and Paula Vogel. Kushner, in fact, has cited Tales of the Lost Formicans as a direct influence on his landmark, Pulitzer Prize-winning two-part play Angels in America (pr. 1991, 1992; pb. 1992, 1993).