David R Gammons

Adrienne Kennedy is one of the most important American playwrights of the last 60 years, and her landmark "Funnyhouse of a Negro" (1964) remains a provocative and unforgettable indictment of the trauma inflicted by colonialism and white supremacy in America. In 1991, Kennedy’s son Adam was brutally beaten by the police and then arrested for assaulting the officer in suburban Virginia, after being pulled over in a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight. "Sleep Deprivation Chamber" fictionalizes those events — combining reenactments of the encounter, courtroom and interrogation transcripts, and letters beseeching Virginia’s Governor and others to intervene on their behalf. But the play is far from a simple documentary theatre project; instead, it incorporates the elder playwright’s unique oneiric surrealism – sliding between nightmare sequences, fragmented memory, and overlapping consciousness. One of the play’s conceptual framing devices is a cast of college actors who are rehearsing a production of "Hamlet" under the direction of the central character, Teddy. As in several of her plays, Adrienne Kennedy uses a surrogate for herself named Suzanne Alexander — a writer and academic, and here, specifically, a devastated and grieving mother who bravely takes on a corrupt and racist system. A powerful and timely drama that explores violence, truth, and the struggle for justice, "Sleep Deprivation Chamber" is a hauntingly relevant x-ray of our fractured society.

Sleep Deprivation Chamber

By Adam P. Kennedy and Adrienne Kennedy


November 7–11, 2023
Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts
Studio Theatre, Blacksburg, Virginia

Photos: PK Dawson and Susan Sanders