'Fefu and Her Friends' worth the travelingBy Jared Downing | 04/10/2012 11:10pm
“My husband married me,” says the elegant protagonist of UA’s new show, “as a constant reminder of how loathsome women are.”
Don’t worry, the women of avant-garde playwright Maria Irene Fornes’ feminist play “Fefu and her Friends” aren’t loathsome — just nuts.
They’ve gathered at Fefu’s decadent 1930s country estate to plan a charity event over a nice lunch but spend most of the afternoon talking about being a woman, which apparently is a very complicated thing to be. Their feminine baggage falls somewhere between the wheelchair-ridden Julia (Leah Ferrill), driven batty by male oppression, to the peppy-yet-domineering Fefu (Amy Handra), who likes to shoot at her husband with a gun that may or may not be loaded (and will be of great interest to fans of Chekhov, if you catch my drift).
Fornes’ script is a product of Second Wave feminism — the movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s that searched for a unique female identity. And apparently, a male-centric universe has made every woman in the play an emotional train wreck with a tendency to break out in spontaneous, philosophical monologues. Unfortunately, instead of masking these in witty, socialite repartee (as the slick, Art-Nouveau backdrop suggests) the actors just belt them out while the rest of the ensemble listens politely. The whole thing feels like a feminist poetry slam, watering down Fornes’ characters and the places where they should break the façade and deliver some real sting.
The show’s big stunt involves breaking the audience into groups that rotate between four separate rooms around Rowand Johnson, a device designed to explore the individuals in Fefu’s entourage with greater intimacy. The troupe nails some complicated timing, but the tiny Bales theatre is already pretty intimate, and it hardly seems worth the awkward logistics. A haunting bedroom soliloquy from Ferrill’s delirious Julia loses its bite when the florescent lights come on and a chipper stagehand ushers everyone to the next classroom like a tour guide at the zoo.
Fortunately, the play hits hardest as a set of contained stories. Fornes’ avant-garde poetry is ambitious, if a bit opaque and not especially theatrical, and with influences from the likes of Ibsen, Woolf and Glaspell, she delivers some vivid and often striking portraits of the female spirit twisted into submission.
But seeing a quad full of identical Shirt Shop tees and Nike Tempo shorts won’t help anything, so be careful leaving the Sunday matinee. Who knows, maybe a little feminism is just what this campus needs.