Prolific playwright Adrienne Kennedy on making her Broadway debut at 91 years old


Interviewing Adrienne Kennedy, the 91-year-old playwright behind the unsettling new Broadway production Ohio State Murders, is a bit like paying homage to what makes New York City unique.

Ohio State Murders
Photograph: Courtesy Richard TermineOhio State Murders

Throughout our conversation, in fact, the prolific writer constantly flips the traditional journalist-and-subject relationship on its head by turning me into the interviewee. The result is a beautiful conversation about theater and New York between two people who are madly in love and devoted to both topics. 

“My last apartment was at 325 West 89th Street, where I lived for 30 years,” she recounts. “I grew up in Cleveland and the first time I saw New York was when I went on a trip with the man I was going to marry and I fell madly in love with the city. I love the shape of the streets and the island. I’m fascinated by the fact that it even is an island!”

It is when explaining her current living situation—Kennedy resides with her son in his house in Virginia—that the importance of the opening of Ohio State Murders in the Theater District is most apparent. In fact, despite the countless successful plays that she’s written throughout her stellar career, this is Kennedy’s first to be mounted on Broadway. Given Kennedy’s age and her undying passion for New York, being able to finally stake her own claim in her beloved city must feel, to put it mildly, absolutely wonderful.

Adrienne Kennedy
Photograph: Courtesy of Adrienne Kennedy

Kennedy is very straightforward about it all, though. “These things are accidents,” she says when asked why it took so long for her break on Broadway to materialize, mentioning a slew of “right place, right time” circumstances that also led to the casting of Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald in the starring role. 

Tackling the subject of racism directly, the 70-minute-long production, which is basically a long monologue beautifully delivered by McDonald, centers around Suzanne Alexander, a Black former student at Ohio State University who chillingly recounts and reflects on the murder of her daughter while giving a speech at the school.

“I think that casual racism is such a dominant thing in American society today,” says Kennedy. “When I was a kid, I would visit my grandmother in Georgia and racism was very prevalent and that still exists today but it’s much more subtle and delivered in a casual way.”

Seeking to spur conversations about social issues and intolerance through her work, Kennedy also hopes that folks will walk away from Ohio State Murders realizing “that people are dismissive of American Black women in a way.” Specifically, she says, “I want them to realize that they’re listening to a very articulate, thoughtful American Black woman and, perhaps, they should pay attention to what she’s saying.”

Here’s to hoping audience members will actually listen.



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