The brilliant complexity of a feminist classic

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Fefu and her friends. Photo credit: Enci Box

When is the last time you saw a play with a cast of eight complex women?

I see a lot of theater and I think my answer is right next to never ...but  an all female cast isn’t the only stunning thing about Maria Irene Fornes’ play,  “Fefu and her friends.”
Written in 1977, the feminist drama circles around 8 female friends. The play begins in the theater facing Fefu’s living room but after the first scene, the audience is invited into the house.  

We’re split into four groups and travels through four different, intimate rooms that have been created in the Odyssey’s theaters.  All four scenes take place simultaneously and each group rotates through until we’ve seen all four. Both in the text and in the space, there’s a sense of simultaneity.  Characters from one scene enter another giving us a sense of the interconnectedness of the world. That glass of lemonade you saw being fetched from the kitchen is delivered to the garden.  You begin to weave together a sense of a larger whole. And given their proximity, we, and the characters, hear laughs and screams from adjoining spaces. It’s a bit like being welcomed into the play’s brain and experiencing ideas bouncing off one another.

This is a structure that hardly feels dated.  On the contrary, it feels like a blueprint for the immersive theater of today.

But it’s not the structure that will strike you.  It’s the 8 women who bring it to life.

It’s sad that a play filled with 8 complicated female characters is  noteworthy - but it is. We don’t see plays with all female casts. We see plenty of male dramas, where a group of guys grapple with what it means to be a man.  Our stages are littered with men figuring out masculinity. But a group of women struggling with what it means to be a woman - whether in 1977 or today, that’s too rare.

“Fefu and her Friends” is a tough play.  It demands a group of actors who can ground not only the structure but also the poetic and complicated language Ms. Fornes challenges us with. The structure of the play is not the simple, single, driven plot that makes Aristotle happy.  Instead, we’re faced with something that demands the audience juggle the journeys of each of these characters. The audience is invited not only into Fefu’s house but to make their own sense of her world.

Denise Blasor masterfully directs a truly stunning cast of women who bring this world to life. They provide both the grounding that lets us hear the words and  the nuance that invites us to imagine their complexity. It’s not easy but it’s thrilling.

This is a masterpiece that doesn’t get produced often or well. So don’t miss this chance to see a stellar production of a play that shows us how much more complicated female characters can be.

“Fefu and her friends” plays at the Odyssey Theatre in West LA through September 29th.