HENRY DARGER IS by Judith Kampfner

Image courtesy of Kiyoko Lerner

Girl with Blengin
Image courtesy of Kiyoko Lerner

A new play about the inner fantasies of a reclusive artist and his daily life in Chicago. A richly visual and imaginative drama, it explores some of the underlying issues and motives behind Darger’s controversial, dynamic and often disturbing, colorful, ecstatic paintings that accompany his epic 15,000 page opus In the Realms of the Unreal.

(90 minutes, one act, 3M 3F)


Henry Darger lives in one room and works in a hospital. He attends Mass three times a day and gets a free meal at lunch from the owner of a local diner. He is inspired to teach himself to draw as he sits in church day after day, gazing at the pictures. He also is inspired by images he sees around him from the objects he picks out of the trashcans and the treasures he hoards in his room. He starts to make a story in images and words about a little girl heroine who is as feisty and devout as St Joan. The story gains a plot inspired by real life. A little girl in his neighborhood goes missing and then is found dead. His story becomes an epic search to hunt down cruel anti Christian soldiers who steal and hurt little girls. As the story gains momentum, Darger’s outside life starts to fall apart. The girls are helped by winged guardians but the soldiers become even more dangerous. Darger starts to imagine characters that come to interrogate and try him. Is he a good man after all? He’s plagued by guilt and doubt. Eventually he is rescued by his characters who lead him into the depths of his imaginary world and safety.

Development History

CHICAGO: Three Workshops and four public readings at the Intuit Gallery with members of Lookingglass Theatre (March and August 2014)
Troy West as Darger, David Kersnar as director
NEW YORK: Reading of excerpts at BAM Hillman Studio Fischer Building (January 2015)
Paul Lazar as Darger, Ted Altschuler as Director


A very intriguing and imaginative interpretation of Darger’s life and work…ambitious and thought provoking.
— Michael Bonesteel, Art Institute of Chicago & Henry Darger Biographer

The creation of the magical world of Darger’s mind was specifically striking.
— Erin Daly, General Manager of New York’s The Flea Theatre Company

The play conveys the richness of Darger’s imagination so well.
— Sandy Sawotka, Head of Publicity at Brooklyn Academy of Music BAM

It’s a great story with interesting characters. Darger is so puzzling, a wonderful enigma. I’m very intrigued.
— Kathy Minton, Symphony Space, New York City

Judith Kampfner’s work in progress is a trip down a theatrical rabbit hole. Its deftly zigzagging script makes the life of this fascinating outsider artist from Chicago even more enchanting, tragic and intriguingly strange. — Tony Macaluso, Director of Syndication the WFMT Radio Network, Chicago

The piece captures the unsettling otherworldly aspect of Darger superbly.
— Dick Connette, Grammy Award winning composer and producer

The projected reality of Darger was very good. He carried the Blakean visionary role very well, put me in mind of the great illustrators too.
— Lucas Hunt, Literary Agent, New York City

This play, so brilliantly constructed from the mystery of genius is an intimate portrayal of how we use imagination to survive.”
— Simon Van Booy, Novelist and winner of the Frank O’Connor Prize