Kitchen Think Drama

When Henry Darger—a janitor, twine collector, and probable schizophrenic—died in 1973, his landlord made an odd discovery. Darger's one-and-a-half-room apartment yielded mountains of junk, an epic weather journal, an eight-volume autobiography, and over 15,000 pages detailing "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal of the Glandico-Angelinian Wars, as Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion." Hundreds of illustrations accompanied the text, bearing titles such as "At Jennie Richee, Violet and Her Sisteres Are Captured & Denuded" or "At Jennie Richee, Frustrate the Enemy Twice."

Shelf Life: The ol' buy and buy
photo: Linsey Bostwick
Shelf Life: The ol' buy and buy

In Jennie Richee (the Kitchen), a music-theater piece collaged from Darger's life and art, the Vivian sisters somehow escape capture and denuding, but frustration is the order of the day. An excruciatingly beautiful piece, Jennie Richee remains ultimately inexplicable—dramatizing Darger in a manner both reductive and abstruse. Mac Wellman's text alternates scenes of Darger's life with episodes from his novel, positioning the latter work as heavily fictionalized autobiography. Yet Wellman writes both types of scene in an oblique fashion—highly poetic, but devoid of plot. Director Bob McGrath renders the text even less accessible, setting nearly all of the action behind a scrim. The gravel-voiced Daniel Zippi portrays Darger with insight and compassion, projecting both gentle naïveté and latent menace. The actresses playing the pinafore-sporting, gun-toting Vivians evince spunk and ardor. Exquisite costumes, lights, projections, and particularly the films by Bill Morrison lend the piece a visual coherence, but cannot replace narrative or import. Much the same may be said of Julia Wolfe's fanciful, textured music and Cynthia Hopkins's haunting songs.

Darger titled one of his larger canvases "Vivian Girls Are Bewildered." In Jennie Richee, they are not alone.—Alexis Soloski

Francine Russo's review of Kristin Marting's The Women of Orleans.

Charles McNulty's review of Mac Wellman's Cat's Paw.
Alexis Soloski's review of Wellman's Hypatia.
Alexis Soloski's review of Wellman's Infrared.
Charles McNulty's review of Wellman's The Lesser Magoo.
Michael Feingold's review of Wellman's Girl Gone.

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