Story: A group of women gather at a country home in New England, circa 1935. They’ve been invited by Fefu to rehearse a presentation being given by their charity on education at their friend Cindy’s home.
Fefu is married, and while she says she loves him, engages in a deadly game with her spouse. She fires a rifle at him from time to time, unaware if it holds real ammunition or blanks. She seems to enjoy the control she exercises when ‘playing’ with the deadly weapon.
Cindy is troubled by a recurring dream in which she is violated, sharing her thoughts and emotions with her friends. Julia arrives in a wheelchair, to which she’s been confined since a mysterious hunting accident a year earlier when a nearby deer was struck, but Julia suffered convulsions and an unexplained head wound. Fefu suspects that Julia can walk but is hesitant to challenge her.
Christina has her own problems and relies on booze and her friendship with Fefu to fortify her. Paula and Cecilia appear to have shared a romantic past, addressing each other hesitantly but with a mutual longing. The theatrical Emma has agreed to create and direct the group’s skit at the presentation. Sue is easygoing and supportive of her entire band of friends.
As all of them come together at Cindy’s house, Fefu appears to orchestrate not only their rehearsal for the presentation but their very lives as well. While each of them interacts with the others, Fefu periodically startles her comrades with her erratic behavior as well as probing the extent of Julia’s apparent affliction, alarming all in the process.
Highlights: Theatre Nuevo joins in the celebration of the life and work of Cuban-American avant garde playwright, director and teacher Maria Irene Fornes with its faithful treatment of one of her best-known plays.
Other Info: Director Gaby Rodriguez’s production notes observe that in the 2019-20 theater season, “regional theatres, universities and colleges around the country are joining forces to celebrate the life and work of La Maestra Fornes. It is an honor for us to join this movement with FeFu, a play that she loved dearly.”
Fornes died in October 2018 at age 88. Born in Cuba, she immigrated with her mother and a sister to the United States at age 15, eventually becoming renowned as a writer whose stories often were focused on character rather than plot development and as a champion of feminism.
Such is the case with Fefu and Her Friends, where not too much of anything really seems to happen during the course of the drama’s one act and 90 minutes of presentation time. Theatre Nuevo’s presentation adheres to the work’s shape, in which the first and last scenes take place in Cindy’s living room. In between are shorter segments on the patio, in a bedroom, in the kitchen and in the study.
Fornes uses an interesting concept in which the audience is divided into four groups, which see the various interior vignettes of the play in one of four different sequences, with everyone then returning with the cast to the living room. Thus, the players perform their own skits four different times while the audience sees just one of each.
The concept is interesting but Fefu and Her Friends also can be tedious, more a theatrical exercise than a conventional story with a beginning, middle and end. Nonetheless, Rodriguez guides her well-prepared cast meticulously along the work’s convoluted path to do justice to Fornes’ honored play.
Theatre Nuevo’s presentation takes place at a private residence, where the audience arrives and each patron is handed a tiny booklet with instructions on where to go for each of the interior segments. One can only purchase a ticket from the company’s web site, which then provides the location of the selected performance.
Jamie McKittrick is credited as movement director, doubtless for the precious if stilted style exhibited before the dialogue begins. She also portrays the vivacious Emma with an exuberant joie de vivre.
There’s fine work by CeCi Hill as the curiously driven Fefu, who has problems with passive/aggressive behavior as well as a compelling need to reveal Julia’s bizarre secret. In the latter role, Sophia Brown persuasively indicates the deep psychological troubles besetting the brittle Julia.
Courtney Bailey-Parker brings out the ‘anchored’ personality of the good-natured Cindy, and Thalia Cruz is fine as the wary but amiable Christina. Lauren Louise does well as the caring and nurturing Emma, while Amanda Louise as Paula and Maya J. Christian as Cecilia carefully reveal the mutual attraction and troubled history of their characters.
If character study and minimal activity is a combination that strikes your fancy, Fefu and Her Friends doubtless fills the bill in Theatre Nuevo’s finely crafted rendition.
Play: Fefu and Her Friends
Company: Theatre Nuevo
Venue: Private residences, varying on production dates
Dates: April 18, 19, 20
Tickets: $25; contact artful.ly/theatre-nuevo (not available at door)
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Vivienne Claire Luthin