Irene Maria Fornes

“Enter the Night”: The dream world of Maria Irene Fornes

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble brings Fornes to Portland and to life

At the start of María Irene Fornés’s “Enter the Night,” we are actually leaving the night.

Tressa, an R.N. who tends to the desperately ill in their homes, has returned from her night shift. Her friend Paula is asleep, but wakes up soon after Tressa’s arrival. Paula has had a dream: The arrival of a thief in baggy zoot suit pants and suspenders, Latino, with a big moustache, who announced himself as Jose Luis. He had rifled through a drawer, searching for a tool of some sort.

Tressa explains soothingly that this Jose Luis must have been their friend Jack, who likes to play dress-up games. But Paula sticks by her story. And adds to it: “Then he leaned forward and said, ‘Do your legs want to wrap themselves around me?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”

By this time Tressa has changed her mind: “You dreamt it.”

This is a good (though insufficient) explanation for what happens in “Enter the Night,” this debate between what is actually happening in the awake world and what is part of the dreamed or remembered one. And although Tressa is wrong, or rather, was right the first time (it WAS Jack), she is right, too. Because María Irene Fornés’s theater emerges from a dream state recorded by a very advanced dreamer.

“It may sound selfish, but in my workshops I teach people to write about whatever comes to their minds,” she has said. “You have to approach the state of dreaming, where you put yourself into contact with things that are saying something. The only way to do it is by allowing part of your mind to dream.”*

Amber Whitehall, Jacob Coleman and Cristi Miles in "Enter the Night"/Photo Owen Carey

Amber Whitehall, Jacob Coleman and Cristi Miles in “Enter the Night”/Photo Owen Carey

So, yes, though it is dawn as the play begins on the spare stage of Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s sure reading of the play, night is never far away, as the title suggests. Or commands. “What we said is that they are trying to get through the night,” director Alice Reagan** says about the characters in the play.

Among other things, “Night” means dreaming. And maybe something more extreme than that.