Maria Irene Fornes Critical Essays


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Maria Irene Fornes is a unique voice in American theater. Defying categorizations, she refuses to allow her work to be defined either by who she is or by any specific genre. She instead creates stunning and powerfully visual works of theater. In general, her writing attempts to blend nonrealistic staging with psychologically based dialogue. Fornes is not trapped by plot, however. In many of her plays, major plot moments are referred to obliquely through the use of dialogue and through throwaway references made during scenes. She writes with a clear poetic sense and creates strong verbal and visual imagery with both her words and the stage pictures that she paints. In addition, she is not afraid to break theatrical convention by making the audience aware of the theatrical frame with which she is working. She considers the audience to be an active participant in her plays, whether actually following the action throughout the theater (such as in Fefu and Her Friends) or forcing them to piece together the interlocking relationships of her characters (such as in Abingdon Square).

Her strong desire to create theatrical compositions onstage has been linked to her background as a painter, although her directing experience may also play a part. In all of her plays, she pays a great deal of attention to staging and stage directions. She provides detailed set descriptions as well as evocation descriptions of the movement in her plays. Yet her emphasis on theatricality in her works in no way diminishes the depth of her characterization. Fornes has a great ability to create fully realized and tremendously complex characters in all of her works. Even the minor characters in her plays are given their full due; one has only to look at the eight individual women she created in Fefu and Her Friends to realize how complex her characters are.

Fefu and Her Friends

In 1935 New England, eight women gather at Fefu’s house to discuss their upcoming presentation on education. Fefu greets the women, a collection of new acquaintances and old friends. Most notable among the old friends is Julia, a friend of Fefu’s who has been paralyzed ever since witnessing a deer being shot. Fefu shocks the newcomers by being “outrageous,” specifically by fixing toilets and playing a game with her husband wherein she fires a blank at him. After all the women are together, Fornes breaks the audience into four groups. The groups then proceed to four different areas, each within hearing and visual distance from the others. The cast then performs four separate scenes, and the audience shifts from scene to scene. For the third act the audience returns to their seats and the actors go back to the main living room set. The women plan their presentation, and then, as the other women participate in a water fight in the kitchen, Julia is encouraged by Fefu to fight against her paralysis. In an attempt to cheer her friend up, Fefu goes offstage to “shoot” her husband again....

(The entire section is 1225 words.)