By Emma C.
Sleep Deprivation Chamber is a play written by Adrienne Kennedy and her son Adam Kennedy. The play, based on Adam Kennedy and Adrienne Kennedy's true-life experience, explores the aftermath of Adam's brutal encounter with a Virginia policeman who pulled him over and beat him, and then later arrested him for assaulting a police officer. Throughout the thoroughly post-modern narrative, Adam Kennedy's beating as well as the courtroom story is told alongside his mother's story, which involves her experience writing letters to political officials to draw attention to the incident. At the same time, the play's narrative transcends time by using dream sequences, and play-within-a-play scenes to shed light on the tough topic of police brutality, Kennedy's approach is a creative one that attempts to reconceptualize the truth by blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
Adrienne Kennedy is a famous African-American playwright best known for her play Funnyhouse of a Negro. Most of her work centers around the black experience and African culture in connection to current events and past ones. In "Sleep" she submerges herself into a metaphorical "Sleep Deprivation Chamber," renaming herself an alter-ego-- "Suzanne Alexander". Suzanne is the narrator of dream sequences throughout the play and readers can follow her side of the story through the letters she writes. Suzanne is the only character who seems to be out of the loop with the incident that occurred between her son (Adam is renamed "Teddy" in the play) and Policeman Holzer. Her breaks from reality are made apparent in her desperate attempts to get attention from Governor Wilder through her letters. The letters reveal how Suzanne feels powerless, not only as a mother, but as a famous playwright and also as an African American. The content of her letters relay her cries for justice, but they also recount actions of her daily life, which adds a human touch to the play. In one of Suzanne’s letters she writes, “Dear Governor Wilder: I’ve received replies from the police chief, senators and county manager. I have a new list. But why should we have to defend ourselves with letters of character when we are innocent?...”
In addition to the letters and the act of writing being a critical point for power and powerlessness in the play, Kennedy also mentions several crucial people, places, and events in American history in order to emphasis that this type of discrimination has not changed throughout time. For instance, at one point she recalls Emmett Till, a 14 year old teen who was lynched and mutilated for flirting with white woman Carolyn Bryant in the 1950s. Stating, “...We are now a grieved family. Our son is being prosecuted by the Arlington Police Department just as surely as happened in the Deep South in the 1930s 0r during Emmett Till’s time.” In relation to her situation involving Teddy being beaten by a white officer, she is commenting on white privilege. Another incident she mentions is the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that collapsed a double-Decker freeway structure in Oakland California. Her use of historical figures and events adds to the play's topic of the black experience, because it is a reminder of how blacks in the U.S. are portrayed and treated. Although written in the 1990s, we can see a pattern of such events still occurring today, maybe not entirely alike but very similar. Currently this could be a story in connection to the Black Lives Matter movement, challenging historical issues of racism in the U.S.
Teddy, the secondary character in this play, is the alter-ego for her son. He is the most relatable character of the play. A victim of police brutality and racial discrimination, Teddy represents the many faces of young African-American men who suffer at the hands of a faulty justice system. Time after time Teddy is questioned about the specifics of the night he encountered officer Holzer, “The officer was pushing me on top of the car and because I had been kicked in the chest I had a very difficult time breathing and I asked the officer very politely-I said, “Sir, I can’t breathe,” I said, “I’m an American citizen, could you please let me up and breathe?”. This bit of information that Teddy provides is the starting to point to his whole situation. At some point he is even told by an African- American female lawyer, “It’s all right, you can tell me, even though your father’s here, you can tell me if you have been arrested before. Come on!” which leaves him in a state of shock. The importance of this one scene is how even amongst your so-called “brothers & sisters” there is a pre-deviant stereotype of what African-Americans are depicted as.
Kennedy's presentation of civil rights ideas and persons and the retelling of Adam's (Teddy's) story contribute to a larger conversation about Black identity while capturing the turbulent 1990s of America -- a time when Cold War ends, a truck bomb explodes under the world trade center, President Clinton signs the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Oklahoma City bombings, O.J trails, and the Columbine High School murders. The Kennedy’s perhaps composed this play not only to develop an argument about the racist societal systems America has in place that contribute to the powerlessness many blacks today feel. Everything in this play from the encounter with the police, the interrogations, the letters, and dreams, all of it screams about the black experience in a racist, white America.
Sleep Deprivation Chamber is a play still so important today because it reflects much of the attitudes and experiences of Black lives. A short read that will stay with you for a long time.
By Jeff Aguilar
Just in time for Halloween celebrations, LA’s The Last Bookstore with Horror Screenwriters." They invited three professional horror screenwriters: Jeffrey Reddick, screenwriter known for his work on “Final Destination”, Stephen Susco, known for his work for “The Grudge” and Brad Keene, for his work on “From Within." These three writers were asked to talk about their writing techniques and their experiences with learning and loving the field of horror writing. Hosted by one of the store’s patrons, Peter Katz, the event turned out to be a wonderful success with many laughs, intriguing subjects of discussion, and even stories about working with colleagues on movies like “The Grudge” and “Final Destination”.
Together they all spoke highly of each other’s works and much more of the works that inspired them, from M. Night Shyamalan’s early works, to Stephen King's stories and mythologies. After delving into the processes and techniques they often employ, the screenwriters opened up about what had them go into the horror genre, and when they were first exposed to horror films. Reddick spoke of his parents allowing him to read all of Stephen King’s works, except “The Shining”. Susco talked about haunted places he worked at, while Keene talked about not being able to finish watching "The Thing" (1982) because it was too scary!
All in all it was a great night for those interested in writing and in the horror film genre!
By Emma C.
On one of my fancier outings for the nights, one night I went to see the play The Maids at A Noise Within Theater. The theater was packed with people of all ages groups, I was seated left center to the stage. My view was spectacular, I could see the whole stage and took note of the tiny details, like a tea set resting on a cushioned seat. The atmosphere was welcoming and enchanting, everything and everyone came together to create this grand scenery for the play. The play was new to me but I did a bit of research on it before I came to the theater.
The Maids, is a French play written by Jean Genet. He based The Maids on the infamous Christine and Léa Papin sisters, who murdered their employer and the employer's daughter. The play had story to it and this story was interpreted to be a clash of classes; the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. As the play begun, an aroma of 1920s instrumental music began to play, it drew me right into the scene. The characters of the play are; Claire and Solange, who are the maids and sisters, and Madame, who are the maids employer.
As the play begins Madame is preparing for the night, Claire watches from her balcony very intensely, giving a sign of envy in her stare. While Madame is finishing up, Solange is catering to her and above Claire undresses. When Madame has finally left, the sisters Solange and Claire start to role playing. Claire plays Madame and Solange plays Claire. Their role playing revealed some deep dark secrets of theirs and some flaws too. Claire seemed to be very bipolar on how she felt about Madame and Solange tries excessively hard to shelter Claire from harm. These insights to their personality seem to indicate that the sister are co-dependent of each other and may suffer from a mental disorder. As the role play continues, Claire who plays Madame, states some interesting remarks concerning herself despite saying them to Solange who is playing Claire. She states, “You have no friends” and “loathing eyes”, Claire seems to be criticizing herself, indicating that she has an internal struggle about her personality and lifestyle. This is where her mixed feelings about Madame come into play, she uses passive aggressive statements to describe her attitude towards Madame while acting as her. Claire seems to worship and idolize Madame for the life she lives but at the same time hates her for it. Their role play is then interrupted by an alarm that Solange had set prior to the start of their role playing. Claire is immediately irritated, while Solange states “I can never finish you off”, which prompts me to ask if this statement has a double meaning to it. Does Solange mean that she can’t finish Claire off in a sexual matter, which indicates that these sisters engage in incest or that the role playing is ended by Madame’s death.
Then a huge key to the entire play is revealed, Claire and Solange have managed to send Madame's husband to jail. Soon after they receive a call, notifying them he was released on bail, afraid of getting caught they devise a plan to poison Madame. Although they plan to poison Madame, you can feel the tension between the sisters start to build, so much of their life has gone into catering to Madame, that this plan is the sole key to their freedom. The stakes are high.
The encounter with Madame is a true testament to how Claire and Solange are abused as maids,the role playing was no exaggeration. Madame is portrayed as loud and brash,and out right oblivious, she has elegant things but not elegant ways. Due to this kind of attitude she treats Claire and Solange with indifference and second thought. Madame takes her anger and irritation out on the maids due to her husband being in jail. In an effort to calm Madame's nerves Solange offers her the poisoned tea, but doesn’t take it. You can see the tension in their faces as Madame refuses the tea.
Then Madame, who believes her husband went to jail due to her greedy ways offers Claire and Solange her beautiful accessories that she cherishes. This is shortly lived since she notices that the phone by her bed is no longer on the hook, the maids are then forced to tell her that her husband was released on bail. Madame then takes back her accessories and prepares to leave to meet with her husband. Claire then tries persistently to get Madame to drink the tea before she leaves. With every attempt you will notice that Claire grows more and more impatient, Claire puts all of her hopes and wishes into that sole cup of poisoned tea, desperately wishing for Madame to take a sip. Claire however fails, Solange arrives back within an hour with a taxi and Madame leaves for the night.
Once Madame leaves, Claire and Solange get into an argument, to settle their nerves they begin another role play. Claire plays as Madame again, Solange states “I want to be a real maid”, suggesting that what they are is slaves and not maids since they are treated as such. This role play become instantly more intense than the first since Solange takes it upon herself to grab a whip and begin to try and attack Claire with it. In the midst of this hysteria, Solange states “Everyone is listening but no one will hear.” Signifying that there pain as maids is something everyone has turned a blind eye to. Claire then begins to have a mental breakdown stating that someone is watching her and doesn’t want to be seen. This hints towards her shame for being a maid and that she has paranoia, a symptom of some mental disorders.
The play ends in a mysterious way, Solange claims that Madame is finally dead and that she had a beautiful ceremony. This announcement seems strange since we knew Madame had left for the night. It is then revealed that it was Claire who was dead, she had drank the poison tea while role playing as Madame. This play I feel didn't just stand for the awareness of classicism but also the mental agony that comes with it, resorting to your lowest to gain freedom from materialism.
I recommend you go see this play, it entails some interesting theories as to what it could all mean. Not only that but the acting and atmosphere of it all pulls you right in.
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.