María Irene Fornés
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|María Irene Fornés|
Fornés c. November 2011
May 14, 1930 |
|Organization||INTAR Hispanic Playwrights-in-Residence Laboratory INTAR (International Arts Relations, Inc.)|
|Partner(s)||Harriet Sohmers, Susan Sontag|
|Awards||9 Obie Awards, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award|
María Irene Fornés (born May 14, 1930) is a Cuban-American avant garde playwright and director who was a leading figure of the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the 1960s. Fornés' themes focused on poverty and feminism. Moreover, on personal and artistic levels, her lesbian identity has been central to her art.
In 1965, she won her first Distinguished Plays Obie Award for Promenade and The Successful Life of 3. She was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with her play And What of the Night? in 1990. Other notable works include Fefu and Her Friends, Mud, Sarita, and Letters from Cuba. Fornés became known in both Hispanic-American and experimental theatre in New York, winning a total of nine Obie Awards.
Fornés was born in Havana, Cuba, and immigrated to the United States at the age of 14, with her mother, Carmen Collado Fornés and sister, Margarita Fornés Lapinel, after her father, Carlos Fornés, died in 1945. She became a U.S. citizen in 1951. When she first arrived in America, Fornés worked in the Capezio shoe factory. Dissatisfied, she took classes to learn English and became a translator. At the age of 19, she became interested in painting and began her formal education in abstract art, studying with Hans Hofmann in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
By 1954, Fornés had met the writer and artist's model Harriet Sohmers. They became lovers, and she moved to Paris to live with Sohmers and study painting. There, she was greatly influenced by a French production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, though she had never read the play and did not understand French. This shifted her creative ambition to playwriting. She lived with Sohmers in Paris for three years, after which Fornés lived with writer Susan Sontag.
In 1957, Fornés returned to New York City. In 1959, when Sontag returned to New York, she and Fornés began a seven-year relationship and moved in together. They encouraged each other to write. Fornés's first play was titled The Widow (1961). Her next major piece was There! You Died, first produced by San Francisco's Actors Workshop in 1963. An absurdist two-character play, it was later renamed Tango Palace and produced in 1964 at New York City's Actors Studio. The piece is an allegorical power struggle between the two central characters: Isidore, a clown, and Leopold, a naive youth. Like much of her writing, Tango Palace stresses character rather than plot. With it, Fornés' also established her production style, being involved in the entire staging process. As Fornés' reputation grew in avant-garde circles, she became friendly with Norman Mailer and Joseph Papp and reconnected with Harriet Sohmers. Tango Palace was followed by The Successful Life of 3 and Promenade, for which she won her first Distinguished Plays Obie Award in 1965. Her work was championed by Performing Arts Journal (later PAJ).
In Fefu and Her Friends (1977), Fornés began to deconstruct the stage, removing the fourth wall and setting scenes in multiple locations simultaneously throughout the theater. Four sets (a lawn, a study, a bedroom and a kitchen) are used in Act II. The audience is divided into groups to watch each scene, then rotated to the next set; the scenes repeat until each group has seen all four scenes. First produced by the New York Theater Strategy at the Relativity Media Lab, the story follows eight women who appear to be engaging in mishaps with men, and it climaxes in a murder scene. Shifting her style toward naturalism, Fornés portrays her characters as real women. The play is also feminist, in that it focuses on female characters and their thoughts, feelings and relationships and is told from a woman's perspective.
In 1982, Fornés earned a special Obie for Sustained Achievement; in 1984, she received Obies for writing and directing The Danube (1982), Mud (1983) and Sarita (1984). Mud, first produced in 1983 at the Padua Hills Playwright's Festival in California., explores the impoverished lives of Mae, Lloyd and Henry, who become involved in a dysfunctional love triangle in which gender roles are reversed. Fornés contrasts the desire to seek more in life with what is actually possible under given conditions. When critics complained of her pessimism, Fornés begged to differ:
A lot of people have said to me about "Mud" and "Sarita" that they like it, they feel very much, but they feel at the very end there is a hole. “What are you saying?” they ask. “That there’s no hope?” One of the critics said of "Mud" that it’s saying there’s no way out. I wasn’t saying any such thing. Even though "Sarita" has a tragic ending—she kills her lover and then goes crazy and to a mental institution—I’m not saying any such thing! I’m showing what could happen. Precisely. I’m giving them an example of what is possible.
The Conduct of Life (1985) was another Obie winner, as was Abingdon Square (1988). Fornés was also a finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama with her play And What of the Night? In 2000, Letters From Cuba had its premiere with the Signature Theater Company in New York, as part of their yearlong retrospective of her career. "Letters" play focuses on a young Cuban dancer living in New York who corresponds with her brother in Cuba. It is the first work Fornés identifies as drawn from personal experience, noting her nearly 30 years of exchanging letters with her own brother. "Letters," too, earned an Obie.
Fornés became a recognized force in both Hispanic-American and experimental theatre in New York, winning a total of nine Obie Awards. She received an honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from Bates College in 1992. Until she was stricken with Alzheimer's disease in 2002, she continued to direct, teach, and mentor younger playwrights. Nilo Cruz studied with her.
Fornés' plays address social and personal issues, while removing the playwright from the work itself. She employs avant-garde techniques explored in the early years of the Off-off-Broadway movement, including innovative form, immersive and multi-site performance, feminist perspectives, and a realism that embraces allegorical elements. Rather than seeing drama as conflict, Fornés has said she views the theater as a place to stage experience, so that the spectator can "receive" it and achieve "identification" with the characters.
- 1961 John Hay Whitney Foundation fellowship
- 1965 Obie Award for Distinguished Plays: Promenade and The Successful Life of 3
- 1977 Obie Award for Playwrighting: Fefu and Her Friends
- 1979 Obie Award for Directing: Eyes on the Harem
- 1982 Obie Award for Sustained Achievement
- 1984 Two Obie Awards for 1) Playwrighting and 2) Directing: The Danube, Sarita and Mud
- 1985 Obie Award for Best New American Play: The Conduct of Life
- 1985 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
- 1986 Playwrights U.S.A. Award for translation of Cold Air
- 1988 Obie Award for Best New American Play: Abingdon Square
- 2000 Obie Award – Special Citations: "Letters From Cuba"
- 1990 New York State Governor's Arts Award
- 2001 Robert Chesley Award
- 2002 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a Master American Dramatist
- Strassler, Doug "2009 NYIT Honorary Recipients Reached Out to Others to Help Themselves", New York Innovative Theatre Awards, Inc., September 14, 2009, accessed August 23, 2012
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- Zwerling, Harriet Sohmers. "Memories of Sontag: From an Ex-Pat’s Diary", November 2006, accessed December 30, 2012; Rollyson, pp. 45–50; and Sontag, pp. 188–189
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- Anne, Fliotsos, and Vierow Wendy. "Fornés, Maria Irene", American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century, University of Illinois Press, 2008, pp. 179–89
- Diane, Moroff Lynn. Fornes Theater in the Present Tense, The University of Michigan Press, 1996.
- William, Gruber E. "The Characters of Maria Irene Fornes: Public and Private Identities", Missing Persons Character and Characterization in Modern Drama, The University of Georgia Press, 1994, pp. 155–81
- Frame, Allen. "Interview with María Irene Fornés" BOMB Magazine Fall, 1984. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
- "The Pulitzer Prizes: Drama", The Pulitzer Prizes, Columbia University, accessed August 28, 2012-08-27
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- Kozinn, Allan. "Theater World Friends Bring Ailing Playwright Closer to Home", New York Times, February 6, 2013, accessed October 13, 2014.
- "María Irene Fornés." in Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Biography In Context. 2005.
- Rollyson, Carl and Lisa Paddock. Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, W. W. Norton & Company (2000)
- Sontag, Susan. Reborn: Journals and Notebooks 1947–1963, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2008)
- Cummings, Scott T. Maria Irene Fornés: Routledge Modern and Contemporary Dramatists, Routledge (2013)
- Als, Hilton (22 March 2010). "Critic's Notebook: Feminist Fatale". The New Yorker 86 (5): 8. Retrieved April 1, 2011.
- Field, Edward. Introduction to "Notes of a Nude Model" by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, Spuyten Duyvil (2003)
- María Fornés website
- María Irene Fornés at Broadway Play Publishing Inc.
- Her championship season - playwright María Irene Fornés
- Profile of Fornés at Brown University
- BOMB Magazine interview with María Irene Fornés by Allen Frame (Fall, 1984)