Adrienne Kennedy Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is Adrienne Kennedy saying about African American identity in Funnyhouse of a Negro?

Compare Kennedy’s treatment of African American women in two of her plays.

What is Kennedy saying about the nature of violence?

In what ways is Kennedy criticizing organized religion?

How does Suzanne evolve over the course of The Alexander Plays?

How does Kennedy use popular culture to analyze American society?

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to her plays, Adrienne Kennedy has published a wide-ranging memoir, People Who Led to My Plays (1986). In 1990, she published Deadly Triplets: A Theatre Mystery and Journal. In 2001, the University of Minnesota Press published Kennedy’s The Adrienne Kennedy Reader. A collection of some of her best plays, the book also includes short stories and other prose works, including both published and previously nonpublished material.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Adrienne Kennedy departs from the theatrical naturalism used by other African American playwrights in favor of a surrealistic and expressionistic form. Her plays capture the irrational quality of dreams while offering insight into the nature of the self and being. Most of her works are complex character studies in which a given figure may have several selves or roles. In this multidimensional presentation lies Kennedy’s forte—the unraveling of the individual consciousness.

The playwright received an Obie Award in 1964 for Funnyhouse of a Negro, her best-known play, and two Obies in 1996 for June and Jean in Concert and Sleep Deprivation Chamber. She held a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and was given grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the New England Theatre Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Creative Artists Public Service. She also received the Third Manhattan Borough President’s Award for Excellence, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writer’s Award, the Pierre LeComte duNoy Foundation award, and the American Book Award in 1990 for People Who Led to My Plays. Kennedy is included in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and is one of a select few playwrights in the third edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature. The Signature Theatre Company in New York dedicated its 1995-1996 season to Kennedy, offering audiences a retrospective of her dramatic works.

She was a lecturer at Yale University from 1972 to 1974 and a Yale Fellow from 1974 to 1975. In addition to lecturing at Yale, Kennedy has taught playwriting at Princeton and Brown universities.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Benston, Kimberly W. “Cities in Bezique: Adrienne Kennedy’s Expressionistic Vision.” CLA Journal 20 (1976). In this essay on The Owl Answers and A Beast’s Story, Benston delineates Kennedy’s skillful use of expressionism. Sees part of Kennedy’s richly symbolic form as having been borrowed from both the folktale and August Strindberg’s dream plays.

Blau, Herbert. “The American Dream in American Gothic: The Plays of Sam Shepard and Adrienne Kennedy.” Modern Drama 27 (1984): 520-539. Blau examines three plays by Shepard and three by Kennedy. Combines personal reflections on his work with Kennedy with sociological, psychological, and thematic approaches to her plays. Sees her as having been “out of place in the emergence of Black Power” and views powerlessness and death as obsessions in her oeuvre.

Bryant-Jackson, Paul, and Lois More Overbeck, eds. Intersecting Boundaries: The Theatre of Adrienne Kennedy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. An anthology of essays on Kennedy’s work, this volume consists of four parts, including interviews and critical analyses of her work by various scholars. The first of its sort on Kennedy’s plays, it makes a substantial contribution to Kennedy scholarship.

Curb, Rosemary. “Fragmented Selves in Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a...

(The entire section is 612 words.)