Marsha Norman Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Though known primarily as a playwright, Marsha Norman began her career as a journalist, writing a number of highly regarded feature articles and reviews of books, plays, and films for the Louisville Times in the mid-1970’s. During this same period, she created and edited that newspaper’s celebrated children’s weekend supplement, “The Jelly Bean Journal.” She has continued to write reviews as well as articles on playwrights and on women’s issues. Her first novel, The Fortune Teller, appeared in 1987.

Norman has adapted a number of her works for television and film. Her film version of ’night, Mother appeared in 1986. Her teleplays include adaptations of The Laundromat (1985) and Getting Out (1994). This success led to other work for television: A Cooler Climate (1999), about an unlikely friendship that develops between a wealthy Maine woman named Paula, just separated from her husband, and her just hired housekeeper Iris, a once-wealthy divorced woman. Especially popular teleplays include Custody of the Heart (2000), based on a book by Barbara Delinsky, about a successful woman sued for custody of her children and her much publicized Audrey Hepburn Story (2000), a somewhat sensationalized life of the actress.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Marsha Norman’s abilities as a playwright were first recognized in 1977 by Jon Jory, director of the Festival of New Plays, Actors Theatre of Louisville. Her first major play, Getting Out, was cowinner of the Actors Theatre’s playwriting prize. Norman’s other awards include the John Gassner New Playwright’s Medallion (1979), the George Oppenheimer Newsday Playwriting Award (1979), and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Academy and Institute of Letters. Her masterwork, ’night, Mother, won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, the prestigious Hull-Warriner Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and four Tony Award nominations. Norman also received a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for her Broadway musical The Secret Garden. She has been playwright-in-residence at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Achievement. She has co-directed the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program of the Julliard School in New York City with Christopher Durang. In 1998 Norman was invited to participate in a theater project of Erindale College, University of Toronto, called Love’s Fire, eight plays by eight contemporary playwrights each inspired by one of the sonnets of William Shakespeare . Her effort, entitled 140 from the sonnet she chose, concerns betrayal and infidelity.

Norman is known for her ability to write compellingly about the psychic pain of ordinary, often inarticulate, and generally forgotten people. Inevitably, she seizes on the single moment of greatest crisis in the lives of these people, that which allows them to rise to their greatest nobility. Though she is from the South, she makes every effort to create characterizations and settings that rise above regionalism to stand as contemporary and universal.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Betsko, Kathleen, and Rachel Koenig, eds. Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987. A wide-ranging and useful interview. Topics include Norman’s problems with critics, her move to New York, the influence of music on her work, her rules of playwriting, and her thoughts on issues of concern to feminist writers.

Brown, Janet. “Getting Out/’night, Mother.” In Taking Center Stage: Feminism in Contemporary U.S. Drama. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1991. Deals with Norman’s use of women characters, their social class and the moments of crisis that affect the ordinary people of Norman’s plays.

Dolan, Jill. The Feminist Spectator as Critic. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1988. In an important work, Dolan uses Norman’s ’night, Mother to show how more traditional plays by women, through claims of universality, gain acceptance into a male-dominated canon. Dolan questions the particular precedents set for other contemporary women playwrights by Norman’s mainstream success.

Gornik, April. “Interview with Marsha Norman.” Bomb Magazine 77 (Fall, 2001). The interview focuses on the relationship between the tentative but fortunately inaccurate cancer diagnosis Norman received and its relationship to the crisis-centered themes of her...

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