maria irene fornes essay

Edward D. McDonald (London, 1936), p. 559; italics mine. She puts Fefu's hat and gloves on it.”. In 1973 she founded the New York Theatre Strategy, which was devoted to the production of stylistically innovative theatrical works. The novel, much-discussed in feminist criticism, has served to redefine and reexamine standard notions of women's work, and as such provides a useful comparison to the representation of women in Fornés. In fact, the triumph of passion over negotiation (the subject of contemporary life) is perhaps what is making people (artists and audiences) turn now in increasing numbers to opera. Fefu and Her Friends. ], Maria Irene Fornes' recent play, Enter the Night, is situated in the intersections between “high art” and “popular culture”; “mediatized” and “live” performance; cultural assimilation and nightmares of miscegenation. [In the following essay, Koppen compares and contrasts the formal and aesthetic qualities of the dramatic works of Fornes and Gertrude Stein. The highly emotional, taut quality of the writing, its subject matter of love, and the stylization of movements, shaped the musical line of the production. However, the dramatic text, the texte troué in Anne Ubersfeld's terminology, and the performance text, an event infinitely susceptible to random initial conditions from scène and salle, both exist, by their very nature, as dynamical systems in their own right. Marion escapes her confining world through sexual fantasies, and when a young man helps her discover her true self, Marion begins to acknowledge the importance of her own needs and desires. Austin also suggests, however, that the accomplishment of the effect (and, it turns out, affect) of that performative utterance depends on the presence of a recognizable context, on a kind of conscious or unconscious consensus among its audience about what signifies, what matters. Like the ending of Fefu and Her Friends, the final moment of The Conduct of Life is highly ambiguous. Emerson's aphorism, “Make yourself necessary to somebody,” is, implicitly, a nostrum for Fornes's most suffering characters. I owned her. Habermas has said that the central intuition he hoped to clarify in his Theory of Communicative Action was “the intuition that a telos of mutual understanding is built into linguistic communication.” Jurgen Habermas, Autonomy and Solidarity: Interviews with Jurgen Habermas, ed. Some presumably masculine “god” might have decreed that men might enjoy “the fresh air and the sun, while [the women] sit here in the dark […]” (15), but it is the women themselves who have internalized this prohibition in the form of fear—fear of their own power, their own collective mind and spirit. A shot is heard, and Lloyd reappears carrying the dying Mae, assuring Henry “she's not leaving” (40). So the last thing to come is language or speech. At one extreme we deny it altogether, at the same time undoing our denial, by creating an unreachable Shangri-La; and this is the gently ironic note on which the play ends, with a reading from Lost Horizon. Additionally, some reviewers have argued that Fornes's experimental narratives are often obtuse and merely exercises in style. Although I have suggested that Leticia forces Nena to take the gun and the blame for the crime, other commentators have argued that the two women bond in that instant, that Fornes reveals the female connection between them in their “subjugated roles.”57 Geis says that the ending “is left open for multiple interpretations, enacting the Brechtian legacy of avoiding catharsis and closure.”58 There is no hero, no moralizing, and no realist affirmation of dominant ideology. She emphasizes both the limitations and the possibilities of the theatrical space, which can function as a tiny cage or as a vast wasteland, as a place where the performer may be pinned down by the audience's gaze or liberated to roam in uncharted territory. If this drama is positioned between heaven and hell, light and dark are its poetic counterparts. While some have lauded Conduct of Life for its avoidance of didacticism and strong theatrical impact, others have criticized the play for its brutal subject material and unsympathetic characters. Quickly, all four pull out their rolled-up newspapers and whack each other indiscriminately and, it seems, with loving disaffection. Bertha had a dog. Yet this moment of extreme gendering and violence is disrupted as the dramatic, surreal and highly ambiguous ending render the final image of Julia (and so, of violence) imitative: mimetic, not real. Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. Fornes' plays, tightly scripted and almost over-determined by a playwright who prefers to direct her own work, nevertheless demonstrate, in both script and performance, an extremely dynamical system. The alcove-like bedrooms are raised almost a foot above the stage floor and self-enclosed except for doorways facing on the hall and window-like openings which look onto the main room. Framing the object of attention removes its cap of invisibility, but more than that, it institutes a relation of sensuous immediacy (sets up a phenomenal encounter) of perceiver and perceived which is the very condition of possibility of meditation—a meditation, significantly, which actively disconnects knowledge from abstraction, from spectatorial distance and the pose of mastery. Is it any wonder that, in a such a world, we find Fefu and her friends constantly waiting for the men to arrive? Once more, too, what is implied is an understanding of art and artifice as knowledgeable, but as involving a reconceptualized viewing/knowing. 5 (May-June 2000): 28-30. Maria Irene Fornes, in an interview with Bonnie Marranca in Performing Arts Journal 2.3 (1977): 107. See Barbara Riebling, ‘Remodeling Truth, Power, and Society: Implications of Chaos Theory, Nonequilibrium Dynamics, and Systems Science for the Study of Politics and Literature’, in After Poststructuralism: Interdisciplinary and Literary Theory, ed. Janelle Reinelt's observations on the relationships between feminist theater and Brecht's theatrical practices indicate that “both Brecht and feminism posit a subject-in-process, the site of multiple contradictions and competing social practices, where concrete political change may coalesce, if not originate.”30. Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan (London, 1987), and Randi Koppen, “The Furtive Event: Theorizing Feminist Spectatorship,” Modern Drama, 35 (1992), 378-94. Marilyn French, “A Choice We Never Chose,” The Women's Review of Books 8.10-11 (July 1991): 31. Maria Irene Fornes, Plays (New York: PAJ, 1986), p. 28. cit., p. 82). “Interview with Maria Irene Fornés.” Contemporary Women Playwrights. Dabney was having difficulty with the speech, and Fornes suddenly knew that she had to make the experience physical. Her desire turns to rage, which she sublimates; this allows her to function in her marriage and provides her with an illusion of power. See the introductory essay by Rosette C. Lamont, Women on the Verge (New York: Applause Theatre Books, 1993), xxvi. And he is almost naked. Maria Irene Fornes, Preface, Tango Palace, in Playwrights for Tomorrow, ed. Joan Tate (Miami, FL: U of Miami P, 1967), 252-57. Crossing the Double-Cross: The Practice of Feminist Criticism. I think usually the people who have expressed to me their dismay at Mae's being killed are feminist women who are having a hard time in their life. SOURCE: Kiebuzinska, Christine. SOURCE: O'Malley, Lurana Donnels. Learning about one's own freedom (symbolized by written and spoken language) is another religious action for Fornés's women. of mind or body, a violent struggle or contest that precedes death. As soon as Henry moves in, however, he begins to regress: thirty years their senior, he has a stroke, must be fed like a baby, is crippled and unable to speak well. The actresses must set and reset their props, enacting and re-enacting the everyday events of making soup or reading, but never advancing to a further understanding, a further confrontation. You don't say, “I'm not going to waste my time writing a scene with five characters that are not going to be in the play.”. That is […] the main reason for stupidity or even madness, not being able to tell the difference between things. Genres. Learning is central to the character of Mae in Mud, but is also extremely difficult for her. Form, in other words, is the medium through which one reflects on the problematics of the real and on the problematics of perception. At the same time, however, the search for this common denominator is an inevitably risky one. Maria Irene Fornes calls her play, Oscar and Bertha, “an exaggerated close-up, in a way an almost microscopic view of an extremely basic emotional situation.” The basic situation is sibling rivalry and the particular exaggeration here, which works to both comic and pathetic effect, is simply this: although Oscar and Bertha are adults, they behave like absolute children. She drops to the floor on all fours and scurries about frantically, looking behind the furniture and calling “Here! She objected to its implications of hopelessness because she wants the play to remain open-ended, with Sarita's question hanging in the air. She has, by her own admission, “been receiving a lot of praise lately … and awards.” To a small cadre of supporters and critics, the recognition is overdue. If mathematician Ian Stewart sees the laboratory experiment as a way to discover essential anomalies, the playwright Fornes uses the laboratory and the anomalies it reveals as a way of both exposing and absorbing the social construction of desire and identity. In fact, that the audience is asked to share the characters' various habitudes in the second part of the play might be seen as an attempt to collapse the distance between character and spectator. There are dry leaves on the floor though the time is not fall. It's very difficult to change your style of writing. But learning does not come as easily as do the more repetitive chores of her day, perhaps because it involves a more masculine and linear approach. Orlando sees his wife Leticia solely as someone to keep house, and even though Olimpia does the actual physical work associated with this function, Leticia is the force behind this household. This production of Tango Palace, directed by Herbert Blau and presented by the San Francisco Actor's Workshop, premiered under the title There! See, for instance, Jacques Lacan's reading of Poe in his “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,’” tr. 4. In the world of Oscar and Bertha, there is a bank and a grocery store and even somewhere a hospital where the character Eve had shock therapy treatments, but it is not a “First National Bank” or an “A & P” or a “Veterans Hospital.” It is a world without proper names, parallel but without direct link to our own, where places and objects and often people are known generically. What goes on inside this frame is oddly miniaturized and magnified at the same time. This effect was particularly to the fore in the critical reception of Abingdon Square. It doesn't fall apart. No matter how strongly Fefu and her friends identify with one another, hom(m)osociality continues to ensure that women cannot be well together in the way that men are; the women are always left desiring the presence of the men, even if no one but Fefu is willing to admit it. At that moment, he perceives her as sexual/male, since her autonomy and sexual activity threaten to re-position him as feminized. He seems to be a wealthy man who struggles with many different things in his life. The play revolves around eight female friends who have gathered at a New England country home for a reunion weekend in 1935. But, gosh, all critics—journalistic, academic, anything in between—like to get it right, like to understand. And how can we speak of Sontag's untranslatable immediacy (or Stein's playful performativity) except in a subjective vocabulary that can only insist on, rather than account for, experience? The contrast between what is seen of Nena and what is heard from her is an alienating moment and disrupts the realist effect of her portrayal as pure victim. My father left. If we are invited to be in their spaces but not of them, made to feel how little difference our presence makes in their world, then what does that say for the status of Fefu as a feminist performance? Jameson's postmodern sublime is not found in the natural world, however; it is the system of late capitalism. He followed her, in an attempt to see their child, but she refused him access to the boy. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception (Evanston, Ill., 1964), p. 42; hereafter cited in text. Julia tells her audience that as soon as she believes the prayer that condemns women as inhuman and spiritually sexual, she “will forget the judges. For interviews with Fornes, see Scott Cummings, “Seeing with Clarity: The Vision of Maria Irene Fornes,” Theatre 17 (Winter 1985): 52-53, and Kathleen Betsko and Rachel Koenig, Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights (New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987), 154-167. This self-reflexivity reflects a new détente between the two traditionally antagonistic domains as it becomes possible to explore one discipline using the analytical or descriptive vocabulary of the other. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 39 and 61. Such honesty and courage enable not only the playwright but the audience to confront the darker aspects of their own humanity and to own them, rather than allowing them to remain hidden and unexamined. Natalie Crohn Schmitt, Actors and Onlookers: Theatre and Twentieth-Century Scientific Views of Nature (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990). Indeed, Fornesia seems to be “about” freedom of expression. When Lloyd murders her, he kills himself and Henry as well. Fefu's desire for Philip—unanswered, uncontrollable, unexpressable—disempowers her as soon as she shoots the gun, and she slips into a feminized gender location. The repositioning of actors and the setting of props necessary for the next segment is staged “in character” and at the same pace and rhythm as the scenes themselves. 9. To be a feminist I think means that you follow a political process that has a development and you are part of the development and you adhere to it. Oscar sits around like a bump on a log; Bertha stands ramrod straight. It eats you. Maria Irene Fornes is a unique voice in American theater. Most of Fornes's earlier plays have been written as a series of short, fragmentary, often cryptic scenes, a style now much more widely and less expertly practiced than when Fornes took it up. Teresa de Lauretis, “Issues, Terms, and Contexts,” in Feminist Studies/Critical Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 8. This is money. We get grey and we don't see anything as being beautiful because we are grey, we are dull, nothing shines for us. Many of her characters are foreign visitors (Paul in The Danube) if not downright homeless (Nadine in What of the Night?). That's why I've been writing so much lately. After his family moved, he returned each summer to stay with his grandmother, where he lived within that culture and retained the knowledge of it. How can they possibly understand it better, like it better, or see more of it because someone has explained it?25. Log in here. They see me as a feminist and when they see Mae die, they feel betrayed. If he is moist and in the shade he may be able to live out of the water for a day. She stresses the importance of writing every day. in Women on the Verge, 203. See George, op. Interview of Fornes by Misha Berson, Seattle Times, 16 April 1993. They have no history or psychology, and events follow no linear narrative. For a critique of cultural feminism, see e.g., Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” in Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society 13.3 (1988): 405-436. “Tressa” both is and is not “Huang” (nor, of course, can actress be identified with character when pastiche continually de-centers subjectivity); and the failure of one role to disappear completely into the other reminds us of an analogous failure: the role of nurse, the one who attempts to comprehend another's pain, is always that of the unworthy Other, filled with longing and distanced from what can never be touched. Mae, the protagonist of Mud, whose hopeless life has consisted of waiting on Lloyd, her companion since childhood, attempts to pull herself out of the mud by attaching herself to Henry, an older man who can read. Helene Keyssar, “Drama and the Dialogic Imagination: The Heidi Chronicles and Fefu and Her Friends.” Modern Drama 34.1 (March 1991), 99. I want to write English and Spanish which I have been doing. It is rather emotion directed and defined, and when we describe art as ‘the will to form’ we are not imagining an exclusively intellectual activity, but rather an exclusively instinctive one. Founded as much on the sexualities it abjects as on the sexed identifications is assumes, then, the subject is nothing if not ambivalent (15). Even in this play, however, there is the sense that getting smarter is man's work, that to improve one's mind is to reject the cycle of female work. Fefu was such a breakthrough for me. 23 (4-10 June 2003): 56. As long as your feet are always on the ground, you can go incredible distances. Farfan, Penny. Beverly Byers Pevitts. However, if the artists themselves (and even reviewers in some cases) can speak of such “subjective” aspects of the artistic function, it must surely be among the tasks of critical discourse to take cognizance of this dimension. Ibsen, on the other hand, despite his preoccupation with social and political issues, fascinates her. Irigaray, Luce. Enoch Brater (Oxford University Press, 1989): Despite their variety, Fornes' experiments share a common impulse: to explore the operation of the mise-en-scène on the process of dramatic action. I want to catch the process of the forming of thought into words. It is not out of rage. “You can't imagine how wonderful it is!” says Fornes, whose discernible Cuban accent adds an extra layer to her natural effervescence. At the same time Fornes uses dialogue in particularly subversive ways to demonstrate that the voice of the characters does not originate from pristine selfhood but reflects them as social beings and presents, similarly to Brecht, “the domain of attitudes which characters have in relation to each other.”28 She makes distinctions, however, between gestures that serve plot and those that enunciate the “mechanics of the mind … the process of spiritual survival, a process of thought.”29 When one reflects on the gestic nature of Fornes' Mud, on the very Brechtian devices of the freeze frames and foregrounded theatricality and on the fact that Fornes' training came from the study of the techniques of the Method, a very significant relationship emerges. Noting that certain signifying systems or structural relationships present obstacles to contemporaneous perception, Stein sets out to remove such stumbling blocks. He lumbers and pounces with the subtlety and grace of a rhinoceros. Bringing them into the light demystifies and disempowers those dark demons, just as Fefu's black cat does. I only went out to buy groceries. [In the following essay, Wolf argues that the form, as well as the content, of Fornes's plays make possible a feminist interpretation of the violence that pervades much of her work. Oscar and Bertha (1991) is set in the home of an adult brother and sister who live together. As she discloses the conceptual imperialism and inherent contradictions of Hollywood representations, she endows a post-modern cliché of the precession of simulacra with a powerfully elegiac quality. Fornes was astonished when people thought her “little play” was worth writing music for and producing. As the title announces, Lust is designed as a sharp contrast in theme and mood. What can the audience ultimately make of the series of performances that constitute Fefu and Her Friends? As William Worthen comments in “Still Playing Games: Ideology and Performance in the Theater of Maria Irene Fornes,” Feminine Focus: The New Women Playwrights, ed. I don't want to give in to it. Dramatic specimens swim about in a neutral domestic medium and are examined and experienced primarily as things unto themselves, as sentient creatures independent of the narrative context from which they have been plucked. If you like the plays of Maria Irene Fornes, chances are you may also like: The theatre of Richard Foreman (and, for that matter, Beckett, Chekhov and the German Expressionists, not to mention Albee, Guare, Shawn, Handke, et alia), The paintings of Paul Klee, but also of Florine Stettheimer, The films of Buster Keaton, but also of Busby Berkeley, The poetry of Wallace Stevens, but also of the New York School of Poets, Wittgenstein's Tractatus, but also his Philosophical Investigations, The piano music of Satie, Scriabin and Thelonious Monk, programmed on your CD player in the shuffle mode (so you don't know which one's coming next), The Innocence of Dreams by Charles Rycroft, Marcel Duchamp, but especially as Rrose Selavy, Whirling dervishes, but also Doris Humphrey's The Shakers, The essays of Susan Sontag, but also her novels, 11. Fornés tells Savran. Susan Sontag has called Fornes's theatre “a theatre of heartbreak.”10 Perhaps it is that sense of sadness or unrealized desire that drew Fornes to the work of Samuel Beckett. His major achievement in the play will be simply, mechanically, to make it out the door to go look for a job. Can you imagine if a director asked an actor to do an improvisation and he said, “Why should I do this scene? See Bonnie Marranca, ‘The State of Grace: Maria Irene Fornes at Sixty-Two’, Performing Arts Journal, XIV (May 1992), where Marranca discusses Fornes' preoccupation with the theme of human evolution through knowledge, learning, and the act of writing. You're going to go through that anyway, you might as well go through it at school. Men: English Literature and male Homosocial desire the 20th century knew she could finally write inside! And pin it down 1890 and his subsequent correspondence with her one-hundred-year-old mother Carmen her... 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