As I mentioned in class this morning, this past week I had to read Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro for my gender and literature class. I remembered reading it two years ago in DR202, feeling overwhelmed and lost in what seemed to be a progression of imagery and repetitive, metaphorical dialogue. Upon a second reading, the play was still challenging, but I was glad to find I was able to approach it in its own world, and pick out the references I needed to look into further.
In that class, for certain pieces on the syllabus, a small group has to prepare some sort of interpretation or presentation. The group assigned this play took scenes and themes from the script and made a roughly 10-minute, silent, black and white film of it. It was actually an incredibly interesting way to look at the play. It is, after all, image-heavy, something that is almost lost when reading the script. Kennedy’s stage directions suggest mood and feel as well as specific instructions, but still, the reader must imagine the actual visual.
One of the strengths of the video was its simplicity, and this is as much, if not more of, a testament to Kennedy’s writing as it is to the skill of the students who made it. They didn’t try to interpret or comment on the material, but simply present the images and let them speak for themselves. One shot that really stuck out to me focused on Sarah’s legs and feet, as strands of hair (it was unclear what they were using for the hair) fell into frame and accumulated on the ground. It was obviously not actual hair, but that just added to the disturbing, surreal feel. The moments with hair did resonate with me both times I read the script, because losing ones hair is such a potent metaphor for body image dissatisfaction, lack of sense of self, and general fear, all of which are strong themes in this play. Seeing it, though, or at least a representation of it, really brought the point home.
I guess what this is all getting at is that I made a discovery of a way into a play from a source that I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t think I’d be moved by a student-made video of a play that is complex play, but which I was proud to have “figured out” on my own. But the power of the image transcended the fact that it was being reenacted in a college apartment by a white girl. I feel the play on a new level now, and my desire to see it in performance has only increased.