- Maria Irene Fornes by Scott T. Cummings
In Maria Irene Fornes, Scott T. Cummings offers an unprecedented purview into the oeuvre of a preeminent voice in twentieth-century theatre. Playwright, director, producer, and teacher Maria Irene Fornes extirpated the punctilious [End Page 91] divides that often characterize theatre-making, insisting on escorting many of her works from page to production as their director. Maria Irene Fornes makes evident how staging techniques deployed during development opportunities or while self-directing her plays’ premieres—covered in fascinating detail in Cummings’s scholarship—reveal the vital creative dialectic between Fornes’s writing and her visual acumen as a director. As one of Cummings’s primary arguments contends: “Her playwriting cannot be understood independent of two collateral practices that also defined her career: teaching and directing” (xix). His assiduous examination of the totality of Fornes’s forty-year career offers an important intercession that ameliorates narrowly conceived perceptions of Fornes as solely playwright. In this effort Maria Irene Fornes navigates an impressive multidimensional conversation that explicates nearly every play in Fornes’s prolific catalogue, both published and unpublished, while simultaneously providing perspicuous insights about her work as a director and her pedagogy as one of the leading playwriting teachers in the twentieth century.
Cummings’s study undertakes a diachronic examination of Fornes’s life events and artistic activity, moving with scrupulous attention from her first play, La Viuda (The Widow), produced and published in 1961 and written in Spanish, to her final play Letters from Cuba, commissioned for the 1999–2000 Signature Theatre Company season dedicated to her plays. To unfold Fornes’s creative activity Cummings divides his study into four parts, which split along the fault lines of decades: the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. These principle units are further divided into chapters that address distinctive shifts in Fornes’s playwriting, her work as a producer, director, or teacher, or explicate in greater depth “key plays” from three decades: Promenade (1965), Fefu and Her Friends (1977), and Abingdon Square (1987). Chapters also scrutinize her influential involvement with the Judson Poets’ Theatre and the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, her work as a librettist for operas, as well as her frustrated intersections with commercial theater. The book’s chronological organization and well-drawn discussions will enable scholars, teachers, students, or future producers alike to easily employ it for teaching, study, or research: each of the four units or their individual chapters can be utilized as a self-contained resource for particular plays or activities in Fornes’s career.
Maria Irene Fornes’s foremost strength lies in its meticulous explication of her plays, especially lesser-known, unpublished works (manuscripts Cummings gained directly from Fornes) that receive cogent and long overdue critical attention. Revealing examinations regarding these unpublished works’ development, staging, one-off productions, and their critical reception in reviews simultaneously illumine Fornes’s published plays and afford a more complete picture of her artistic arc in total. A generous number of production stills are also included, which grant readers invaluable visual references alongside the discussions of her work. Two important appendices are also notable. The first tracks developmental milestones of each [End Page 92] Fornes play, including workshop productions, readings, and premieres. The second offers a thorough publication history of her plays, a superlative resource that also reveals how much of her catalogue remains as yet unpublished.
In addition to textual analysis, Maria Irene Fornes’s first two sections, “Overview” and “Getting Started,” provide vital introductions for either critical study or production. “Overview” broadly outlines persistent dramaturgical operations in Fornes’s plays such as their unique formulation of time and the recurring “tropes of literacy, language, and learning” (xxi), which often frame ontological and epistemological questions characters negotiate. “Overview” also offers the first of two important theoretical signposts. In coining the neologism “emotigraph,” Cummings crafts a productive lens by which to read Fornes’s extensive use of brief, “miniature” scenes that make use of tableau, image, and few spoken words, which Cummings argues ultimately burke linear narrative in favor...