Maria Irene Fornes  book cover
1st Edition

Maria Irene Fornes

ISBN 9780415454353
Published August 29, 2012 by Routledge
232 Pages

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Book Description

Maria Irene Fornes is the most influential female American dramatist of the 20th century. That is the argument of this important new study, the first to assess Fornes's complete body of work.

Scott T. Cummings considers comic sketches, opera libretti and unpublished pieces, as well as her best-known plays, in order to trace the evolution of her dramaturgy from the whimsical Off-Off Broadway plays of the 1960s to the sober, meditative work of the 1990s. The book also reflects on her practice as an inspirational teacher of playwriting and the primary director of her own plays.

Drawing on the latest scholarship and his own personal research and interviews with Fornes over two decades, Cummings examines Fornes's unique significance and outlines strategies for understanding her fragmentary, enigmatic, highly demanding theater.

Table of Contents


Part I -- The 1960s

"Let me be wrong. But also not know it."

1 Getting started

Bohemian roots: growing up in Havana

Bohemian roots: settling in Greenwich Village

Tango Palace (1963)

A metatheatrical conceit

2 Off-Off Broadway: The Good Scene

Cino, Judson, La MaMa, and others

The Open Theatre connection

The Successful Life of 3 (1965)

The Office (1966)

Dr. Kheal (1968)

A Vietnamese Wedding (1967)

The Red Burning Light (1968)

3 Key play: Promenade (the apotheosis of Judson)

The Judson Poets' Theatre

Promenade (as a one-act in 1965)

Promenade (as a full-length in 1969)

Molly's Dream (1973)

Part II -- The 1970s

"If we're showing what life is, can be, we must do theatre."

4 Finding a way

New York Theatre Strategy

Aurora (1974)

INTAR and the Hispanic Playwrights-in-Residence Laboratory

Cap-a-Pie (1975)

Eyes on the Harem (1979)

5 Key play: Fefu and Her Friends (turning over the stone)

Fefu and Her Friends: The Basic Action

Fefu and Her Friends: The experimental second act

Fefu and Her Friends: at At the Foot of the Mountain

Fefu and Her Friends: at the Yale Repertory Theatre

Part III -- The 1980s

"I have to learn how to lead my life."

6 Found

Theater for the New City

Padua Hills

Fondness for the Found

Evelyn Brown (A Diary) (1980)

A Visit (1981)

The Trial of Joan of Arc in a Matter of Faith (1986)

7 The PAJ Plays

The Danube (1983)

"Irene Time"

Mud (1983)

Sarita (1984)

The "emotigraph" as unit of construction

The Conduct of Life (1985)

The rhetoric of space/the space of rhetoric

8 Key play: Abingdon Square (conquering the vagueness)

Teaching playwriting

Lovers and Keepers (1986)

Abingdon Square: Genesis and production history

Abingdon Square: Marion as Fornes Innocent

Abingdon Square: the process of imagination

"The Poetry of Space in a Box"

Part IV -- The 1990s

"Where are we in relation to all this?"

9 The Night Plays

What of the Night? (1989)

Oscar and Bertha (1992)

Enter the Night (1993)

Manual For a Desperate Crossing (Balseros/Rafters) (1997)

Terra Incognita (1997)

10 Coming to an end

The Summer at Gossensass (1998)

Fornes and Hedda Gabler

Letters From Cuba (2000)


Drowning as paradigm

"This must be made by a person."

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Scott T. Cummings is Chair of the Theatre Department of Boston College, where he directs plays and teaches courses in playwriting and dramatic literature. He is the author of Remaking American Theater: Charles Mee, Anne Bogart and the SITI Company, as well as numerous performance reviews, journal articles, and essays on contemporary American theater and drama.


'In this excellent study, Cummings successfully argues Fornes's stature as "the most important unknown playwright in the United States" during the second half of the 20th century. He provides a comprehensive analysis of her career over four decades, demonstrating how her conjoined practices as playwright, director, and teacher form an organic whole and characterize her distinctive style of theater. Cummings analyzes and interprets all of Fornes's plays in a clear, accessible manner, affording a more detailed examination of what he terms the "key" plays--Promenade, Fefu and Her Friends, and Abingdon Square. Cummings situates Fornes's work and influence decade by decade, providing a portrait of the rapidly changing American theater from 1950 to 2000. He highlights Fornes's particular contributions to the Open Theatre, INTAR, and the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, among others. As a leading figure of the American avant-garde, Fornes was perhaps most influential as a playwright's playwright who was instrumental in shaping the careers of her more famous protégés, including Henry David Hwang, Eduardo Machado, and Sarah Ruhl. Appendixes detail Fornes's published plays and production history; the bibliography is solid. This is a fine volume. Summing Up: Highly recommended.' M.S. LoMonaco, CHOICE