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A CurtainUp Review

Woman is not a human being. She is 1) a mystery, 2) another species, 3) as yet undefined, 4) unpredictable.— --Julia, Wickets

Lee Eddy and Katie Apicella in Wickets. (Photo: Richard Termine)
Doing an old play with a new concept can be tricky. If done correctly, it offers a new and invigorating perspective; if not, it's pretentious at best and confusing at worst. You can do Richard III in Nazi Germany, for example, but you cannot set it in a disco. The script won't support it. When I first heard about Wickets, I admit I was skeptical. Marie Irene Fornes' notoriously postmodern 1977 play, Fefu and Her Friends, which explores the dark underbelly of feminism, set on an airplane? I girded myself for pretension.

Happily, Wickets is a fine re-interpretations and the only version of Fefu and Her Friends I've seen that actually made sense. Though written in 1977, Fornes' message remains ever the same: women don't knowwhat to do with feminism. Or rather, they don't know what to do with themselves. It's a strange, unsettling play, especially so because its strong women characters are at a loss with each other and with themselves. Without a man to center around, they disintegrate into cattiness and then madness.

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." In Fornes' play, Fefu and her friends are a group of 1935 society women, bored and affected in the manner of society women with too much free time. In the last act, the women turn giggly, then bitchy, and then everything takes a really tragic turn for the worse.

While not a realistic play, Fefu isn't strictly allegorical either. It centers around the dark imagery and emotional backwash at its heart of the play. Full of self-loathing and self-doubt, the women only gradually realize the dual reality of their lives; the glossy surface and the dark underbelly. It's thought-provoking but challenging; this is not a play for those who enjoy escapism in their theater.

In Wickets these same women are airline stewardesses in 1971, the heyday of luxury air travel. In an attempt to see how far women have come and how far they have yet to go, Fefu, looks back forty years to 1935,. Wickets looks back almost forty years, to 1971, when feminism was beginning to shift but had not yet permeated everyday life.

Though the women are now stewardesses e on a trans-Atlantic flight to Paris, the original script of Fefu is largely intact, but with additions from Bernard Glemser's 1969 pulp novel, The Fly Girls, a 3-D porn firm called The Stewardesses, Valerie Solanas' Scum Manifesto, and an Emily Dickinson poem. There are also original songs, dance numbers to Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia," with a wholly original in-flight movie entitlePerfect Surf. Of course, there are also the usual flight announcements. And true to the title which is taken from the hoops used in croquet, the last scene involves an onboard game.

The small space at 3LD has been ingeniously transformed into an airplane by Jenny Rogers, with narrow aisles, drink carts, tiny windows, and a curtain separating first class from steerage. The characters serve us warm nuts, Tang, water, pillows and wet towels, then collect trash, while speaking their lines. The second act of Fefu calls for the action to take place in four separate rooms, while the audience moves from room to room; here, the stewardesses section the plane off into four parts for the "turn-down service," then move through the plane, so that the four scenes come to us. The crisis at the end becomes severe turbulence, accompanied by the arrival of a mysterious angel.

As stewardesses, the characters embody the inherent contradictions in feminism far better than bored society women ever could. These women work for a living, but in a job which requires them to be beautiful, flirty, and a little dim. The gifted actors allow bits of individual personality to surface, even while playing stereotypes. The result is a fantastic example of ensemble acting, led by equally gifted directors Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers.

It's odd how the script actually supports the concept. While it never would have occurred to me to put the two together, it works, and it's heartwarming to see Wickets bring out the central message—and humor— in a way that traditional productions of Fefu often don't.

This may be the only time I've ever actually enjoyed being on an airplane. At $18 it's a lot less expensive than any flight.

Adapted from Fefu and Her Friends by Maria Irene Fornes, by Jenny Rogers
Created and directed by Jenny Rogers and Clove Galilee
With Katie Apicella, Elizabeth Wakehouse, Christianna Nelson, Jessica Jolly, Kristen Rozanski, Lee Eddy, Jona Tuck, Maria Parra, Eric Walton and Lucas Steele
Set Design and Videography: Jenny Rogers
Lighting Design: Burke Brown
Sound Design: Dean Parker
Costume Design: Candace Knox
Running Time: One hour and forty minutes with no intermission
Trick Saddle at 3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street; 212-352-3101
Tickets $18
Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm
From 1/03/09; opening 1/08/09; closing 1/25/09. Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on January 11th performance
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