“There is no signature to my work, it is more like if you think of a plant with roots, trunk, then many branches. It has that. Everything comes through the center and manifests itself in different ways.”– María Irene Fornés
María Irene Fornés was born on May 14th, 1930 in Havana, Cuba. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951, after having moved there six years prior following the death of her father. She then lived in PAris from 1954 to 1957 to study painting and to be a part of the cultural and artistic movements happening there. This is where she also found her love of theatre and began a romantic relationship with famous writer Susan Sontag.
Outside of her playwrighting, which I will discuss more in depth, Fornés worked in advisory and educational across multiple theatre companies, and was an influential part of the Off-Off-Broadway movement. The great playwright sadly passed away in 2018 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Moments of Inspiration
There are two points in Fornés’ life that seem to mark the beginning of her career as a playwright.
- While residing in France, Fornés attended a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that, in her words, chaned her life. This production also sparked her interest in theatre as a career.
- On a night out with Sontag, Fornés had gotten her to confess to her fears of writing. In response, Fornes ditched the women’s plans to party that night to go home and help Susan write: “I was going to show her it was so easy, even I could do it.” While at first she struggled, she eventually pulled a book off of her shelf at random and used the first words of each sentence to create a story. While she described this story as ‘insignificant’, this moment sparked an ease and need to write in Fornés.
Fornés also famously directed numerous productions of her own works.“It’s hard to separate Fornés the writer from Fornés the director,… For her there was no division between writing dialogue for a character and thinking how the actor playing that character would hold her hands onstage, or where the chair would be placed, or how the light would fall at the end of the scene. She was also a master of stage silence.” –MARC ROBINSON, YALE PROFESSOR (2013)
List of Her Original Works
- THERE! YOU DIED (1963); retitled TANGO PALACE (1964)
- THE SUCCESSFUL LIFE OF 3: A SKIT IN VAUDEVILLE (1965)*
- PROMENADE (1965)*
- MOLLY’S DREAM (1968)
- FEFU AND HER FRIENDS (1977)*
- THE DANUBE*
- ABINGDON SQUARE*
- THE CONDUCT OF LIFE*
* = Denote plays that earned Fornés an Obie award; in total, she won 8 Obie awards for playwrighting, directing, and best new play.
Fornés also had a hand in multiple translations and adaptations, such as Virgilio Piñera’s COLD AIR and Anton Chekhov’s UNCLE VANYA.
Many playwrights and artists have credited Fornés as being a source of inspiration. Some of these creatives include, but are not limited to:
- Paula Vogel, writer of The Baltimore Waltz: “In the work of every American playwright at the end of the 20th century, there are only two stages: before she has read Maria Irene Fornes, and after.”
- Tony Kushner, playwright of Angels in America: “She’s not spoken of as an important American playwright, and she should be,… She had terrifyingly high standards and was terribly blunt about what others did with her work. Her productions were unforgettable. She was really a magical maker of theater.”
- Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theater: “Nobody has had the influence on American playwriting as a teacher that Irene has.”