Theater review by Naveen Kumar
A play can be like a symphony, rapturous in a way that surpasses logic. María Irene Fornés’s ingenious Fefu and Her Friends is such a work, and this revival from director Lileana Blain-Cruz is nothing short of exquisite. Though the play hasn’t been performed Off Broadway since its 1977 premiere, it feels as ahead of its time as any work on today’s cutting edge.
One after another, women arrive in Fefu’s home, so handsomely appointed by set designer Adam Rigg you’ll have to resist an urge to move in. Fefu (a beguiling Amelia Workman) is a droll and mischievous host; she fires a shotgun at her unseen husband through the terrace doors before even pouring drinks. Almost as soon as all eight guests are assembled, in chic costumes by designer Montana Levi Blanco, the party disperses, and we’re invited to follow. Four scenes (in a bedroom, a sitting room, the kitchen and the yard) unfold simultaneously; the audience, split into four groups, circles around the set until everyone has witnessed each section. We find the women talking mostly in pairs: about a dream, the nature of love, psychic trauma, how absurd it is that everyone has genitals but they’re so rarely discussed.
All of them are reunited for a third act that reveals the gathering’s purpose: to rehearse a presentation for a charity devoted to arts education. Fornés’ play is itself a tutorial in how an ensemble of richly drawn characters—provoking, laughing and revealing themselves to each other—can reveal essential truths about being human. To observe such intimately drawn performances up close, in so enticing a physical word, feels like a seduction and a blessing. “If we’re showing what life is, can be,” one character says, “we must do theatre.” This production is proof of that.
Theatre for a New Audience (Off Broadway). By María Irene Fornés. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2 hrs 15mins. No intermission.