A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White Summary

Adrienne Kennedy


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White opened at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1976 as a work in progress. This one-act play is introduced by the Columbia Pictures Lady speaking in Clara’s stead. Each scene is first a film set, with the leading roles played by the film’s primary actors. Places and people from Clara’s life, including Clara, who has only a bit part, appear in parallel supporting roles. In her stage directions, Kennedy describes the supporting actors’ attitudes toward the leads as “deadly serious.”

Characters in scene 1 include actors Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in a scene set on an ocean liner from the film Now, Voyager (1942); the scene simultaneously occurs in a Cleveland hospital lobby in June and July of 1955. Clara’s mother and father, as they were in a 1929 photograph, are on deck. Clara silently joins them, but she isolates herself from the action by writing in a notebook and allowing Bette Davis to speak for her of marital discord, a miscarriage, fears of bleeding to death in labor, and childhood traumas. Clara’s dominant response to emotional confrontation is to read passages from The Owl Answers, which she has apparently been writing in her notebook. As the scene ends, Clara enters her comatose brother’s hospital room and relates what she sees to the film Viva Zapata! (1952).

Scene 2, with Jean Peters and Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata!, takes...

(The entire section is 500 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Barnett, Claudia. “An Evasion of Ontology: Being Adrienne Kennedy.” TDR—The Drama Review: A Journal of Performance Studies 49 (Fall, 2005): 157-186.

Betsko, Kathleen, and Rachel Koenig, eds. Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987.

Brown, E. Barnsley. “Passed Over: The Tragic Mulatta and (Dis)Integration of Identity in Adrienne Kennedy’s Plays.” African American Review 35 (Summer, 2001): 281-295.

Bryant-Jackson, Paul K. “Kennedy’s Travelers in the American and African Continuum.” In Black Theatre: Ritual Performance in the Africa Diaspora, edited by Paul Carter Harrison, Victor Leo Walker II, and Gus Edwards. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.

Bryant-Jackson, Paul K., and Lois More Overbeck, eds. Intersecting Boundaries: The Theatre of Adrienne Kennedy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

Diamond, Elin. “Adrienne Kennedy.” In Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Harrison, Paul C., ed. Totem Voices: Plays from the Black World Repertory. New York: Grove Press, 1988.

Hurley, Erin. “Blackout: Utopian Technologies in Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro.” Modern Drama 47 (Summer, 2004): 200-218.

Kennedy, Adrienne. People Who Led to My Plays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Kintz, Linda. The Subject’s Tragedy: Political Poetics, Feminist Theory, and Drama. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

Kolin, Philip C. Understanding Adrienne Kennedy. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005.