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|A CurtainUp Review
Fefu and Her Friends
By Jenny Sandman
Fefu is probably deranged to begin with. She "pretends" to shoot her husband with a gun that may or may not be loaded. She likes men better than women and in fact finds women "loathsome." Fefu and her friends are a group of society women, circa 1935. They're bored and affected in the manner of wealthy women who have too much free time.
The play begins with plans for a charity benefit being planned at Fefu's New England estate. During the second part, four different scenes play simultaneously in four different rooms. The audience is led around to each in no particular order. In the final act, the women turn giggly, then bitchy, and then everything takes a tragic turn.
Though not a realistic play neither is it strictly allegorical. Director Krissy Smith sums up the dark imagery and emotional backwash at the heart of the play as "a provocative statement about women to this day." Fornes' self-loathing, self-doubting women only gradually come to understand the glossy surface and the dark underbelly that is the dual reality of their lives. It's thought-provoking but challenging, not for those who enjoy escapism in their theatre.
The play has been given a fine production with a uniformly strong cast, led by Nikki Alikakos as Fefu and Elizabeth Howard as the emotional linchpin, Julia. Julia does a fantastic job with the long monologue in Part 2 that sums up the entire play. The women's personalities compete with each other but that's the point. Director Krissy Smith knows her stuff and keeps the action fresh and crisp.
The elaborate set makes very inventive use of the small downstairs space. The main playing area, the living room, is backed up against the entry staircase, so that the audience must cross over the set to get to the seats. The other rooms (utilized in Part 2) are divided with black curtains and have been given just as much care as the main space: The back porch has a hanging porch swing and a real patch of dirt; the kitchen has a number of period appliances; Julia's bedroom is as claustrophobic as she feels it to be and her wheelchair is as authentic as the rich period costumes. The set's only pitfall is that because the rooms are so close together, the four scenes in Part 2 compete with each other, making it hard to hear one over the other.
All in all this is an excellent production of a play that's hard to understand and with a pretty discouraging its message. Consider it as an antidote to frivolous, overly saccharine holiday fare.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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