A Trip Into the Otherworldly With Adrienne Kennedy as Guide

Have you skilled the acquainted unfamiliarity of goals? That quixotic sense of déjà vu that comes from snippets of reminiscence, stray ideas, recurring photographs stolen from the day or drawn wholly from the creativeness — all jigsaw-puzzled collectively to type a portrait of a sense, a sensation, a perception or worry.

Call Adrienne Kennedy the grasp dream weaver. The playwright, finest recognized for the 1964 “Funnyhouse of a Negro,” has a prolonged C.V. of performs and honors, together with Obie Awards, a Guggenheim and a spot in the Theater Hall of Fame. Her title crops up in chapters about the Black Arts motion, alongside the playwrights Amiri Baraka and Ed Bullins.

Her otherworldly work deserves its personal quantity. Yet Kennedy, now 89, is commonly shelved amongst the ranks of the “celebrated” and the “influential” who’re hardly ever produced.

That’s a part of the incentive behind the Round House Theater’s digital competition “The Work of Adrienne Kennedy: Inspiration & Influence,” produced in affiliation with the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, N.J., and that includes the mid-period works “Ohio State Murders” and “Sleep Deprivation Chamber,” the more moderen “He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box” and the world premiere of “Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side.”

In a sequence of austerely staged streaming productions, Round House, based mostly in the Bethesda, Md., space, is showcasing Kennedy’s uncanny skill to seize a way of untethered Blackness, disconnected from time, house and an immutable identification.

In different phrases, Kennedy’s Black characters by no means merely exist in a single place, or in a single second. They are cleaved by historical past, institutionalized oppression and violence, and her narrative constructions — stuffed with leaps in time, speedy shifts in setting, always altering views and characters who embody disparate identities without delay — mirror the complexities of that actuality.

If that sounds a bit heady, it’s meant to be. Kennedy’s work isn’t simple, and by that I imply conventional, with conservative three-act constructions and chronological storytelling.

The play consists of the letters they exchanged; Jackson and Hammond read from stands on a stage, and scene changes are indicated by beautifully designed miniatures of buildings and trains which they hold up to the camera.

But the disconnect between Kay and Chris comes down to more than their physical distance; their letters feel like broken conversations, never on the same plane of understanding. Nicole A. Watson’s understated direction captures Kennedy’s love of the fragmentary, shuttling us between Kay’s world and Chris’s — his, earnest and naïve; hers, dreamy and aloof, drawn to the past while living in the present.

One of her fixations: the mystery behind her mother’s death — suicide, or murder? — stemming from her relationship with a white man. All the while, Kennedy notes in her typically precise, poetic stage directions, Kay, on a train ride to visit Chris in New York, is being watched by his father. The ending is a case of history repeating itself.

In Kennedy’s work Blackness exists in a kind of time loop, trapped in the tragedies of the past. It’s why “Sleep Deprivation Chamber,” co-written with her son Adam P. Kennedy, feels prescient — even though it was first produced in 1996.

In the semi-autobiographical work, directed by Raymond O. Caldwell, Suzanne Alexander (Kim James Bey), a writer, professor and Kennedy stand-in who shows up in other plays, recounts when her son Teddy (Deimoni Brewington) was the victim of police brutality and yet accused of assaulting an officer.

The telling of the event is fractured among different perspectives (Suzanne, Teddy, Teddy’s uncle, Teddy’s father, the officer); in different places (Ohio, D.C., Virginia); and at different times — during the incident, during police interrogations, in the courtroom.

“Etta and Ella on the Upper West Side” is the latest Kennedy work to show how she conflates different characters, places and times. A narrator (the charismatic Caroline Clay, under the subtle direction of Timothy Douglas) sits at a desk on an otherwise empty stage, telling a story delivered in numbered sections, each made up of short sentences and fragments, some of which repeat like a chorus.

Twin sisters, Etta and Ella, both writers, live their lives in double, one accused of mimicking and plagiarizing the other — until one dies and the other is left haunted.

Even at a mere 35 minutes in length, “Etta and Ella” is the most enigmatic of the bunch, and the most blatantly literary: The text isn’t a monologue but is rather just labeled “narrative”; on the page it looks like a work of fiction that often reads like a poem. There are the inevitable Kennedyesque signposts: Etta’s baby daughters are killed “by the English professor who was their father,” who then kills himself — the same tragedy that befalls Suzanne in “Ohio State Murders.”

And Etta and Ella argue because they write the same stories, with the same character names; one is named Suzanne. Are they two individuals or two facets of one person? Is Suzanne the story created by Etta and Ella, or are Etta and Ella products of the mind of Suzanne?

Source link Nytimes.com

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