A blue-tinted light flashes, temporarily illuminates three porcelain-skinned women with ruby red lips who seem to be trapped in space. At once jarring and oddly beautiful, the opening of “Fefu and Her Friends” fittingly sets the tone for a play that is absurd and confusing, honest and insightful, disturbing and uncomfortable.
Although there is little continuity in the plot and it remains unclear exactly what “Fefu and Her Friends” is about, the play follows eight women through the rooms of Fefu’s house on a single spring day in the 1930’s. With an all-female cast, the play inevitably touches on the issue of feminism. But rather than advocating any sort of direct message, the play is about women who don’t know what to do with feminism. Written in the 1970s — a time in which feminism was a very real, very public issue — by Maria Irene Fornes, “Fefu” looks back to an era in which there was no concept of feminism as we define it today.
Director Sabina Ahmed ’06 described “Fefu and Her Friends” as “about the idea of women, and women in society and how they struggle with finding their place in it.” Ahmed added that because every woman’s struggle is different, she wanted to “define woman individually.” A goal which was successfully fulfilled through the strong performances of the ensemble.
Susannah Bragg ’08, a scene columnist, who plays the vibrant and theatrical Emma with gusto, handles well a role that doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the cast. And Anjanine Bonet’s ’06 portrayal of the wheelchair-confined Julia is so honest it is almost uncomfortable. And Susan Posluszny ’06, a former scene editor, who plays the title role, assumes Fefu’s character with the frankness and command that make her character so unique (and it’s a good thing, too, since “Fefu” is her theater studies senior project).
Fefu is authoritative, abrupt, candid and rough — her friends describe her as outrageous. But at the same time is filled with compassion and overwhelmingly intense emotion. She is slightly reminiscent of Ibsen’s tragically loathsome Hedda Gabler. Fefu shoots rifles at her husband that may or may not be loaded, and runs off to fix the plumbing before brewing some tea to serve her guests. She is overwhelmed with an emotional pain that she cannot define. Needless to say, Fefu is an enigmatic, complex character, and Posluszny brings her to life without restraint.
Fefu and her friends are also, by modern standards, feminists. Men are peripherally present in the play through references to the characters’ past relationships and to Fefu’s restrictive and loveless marriage. Fefu claims “women are loathsome” and that she prefers men. Julia, in a disturbing and uncomfortable monologue, said that “the mate for man is woman, and that is the cross he must bear.” Posluszny commented on this attitude, saying that she believes women are their own worst enemies. Though women would rather be around men, they should want to be around one another. Posluszny also pointed out that Fefu cannot hate something that she also is without destroying herself.
Fefu’s conflicted character is mirrored by the discordant coloring of the set, which consists of black flooring against crimson red walls. Also of note, the set design is highly interactive, requiring the audience to move from station to station to experience different scenes.
The success of “Fefu,” in the end, rests with the actresses’ strong performances. While some are definitely better performers than others, the off-stage chemistry between the eight women makes their on-stage relationships all the more believable. Similarly, Posluszny’s skillful adaptation of Fefu may be due in part to her own feminist ideals.
“I’m a raging feminist,” Posluszny said. She added that she has often felt maligned for being both feminine and holding feminist ideals — a conflict that her character would, no doubt, be able to understand.
All this talk of feminism may deter members of Yale’s population who have X-Y chromosomes to attend the play. However, the play, in addition to being visually and aesthetically pleasing, can be interpreted as a story of the universal struggle everyone goes through to figure out who they are, and how they fit into society — this particular play just looks at this common struggle through a woman’s lens. And if this is not convincing enough, there is a brief moment of girl-on-girl action that should draw some attention.
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