María Irene Fornés‘ Absurd Comedy Probes Women’s Fears
by Patricia L. Morin
“Fefu and Her Friends” delicately weaves individual women’s stories into themes to spotlight women’s struggles for gender independence, life, and renewal. All loaded into a 1977, rich, comic absurdist play.
Fefu (magnificent Catherine Castellanos) welcomes us to her lavish, 1935 home, where seven women, mostly friends, eventually arrive to plan a mysterious fundraising event.
Castellanos as Fefu presents a labile personality that smoothly slides from expounding abstract ideas to the stark reality of shooting a shotgun through an open door: “My husband married me to have a constant reminder of how loathsome women are.”
Aiming for her unseen husband, playing a marital game of Russian Roulette, we wonder if there’s blanks or live ammo this time. “Fright,” she announces, “makes you stronger.” Playwright María Irene Fornés sets up a threat of future violence.
We feel the power of Fefu’s rage against misogynistic men, and her desire to destroy women’s fear of male dominance.
Among her guests, severely depressed Julia (exceptional Lisa Anne Porter) arrives in a wheelchair. Fefu invites us to become part of her community. Colored wristbands divide us into small groups, so we can walk to scenes in Fefu’s study, bedroom, and kitchen. The beautiful 30s decor by Tanya Orellana spotlights women in both mysterious and funny conversations.
Director Pam MacKinnon does a wonderful job keeping the story alive while controlling all aspects of five mini theaters in The Strand. Sound designer Jake Rodriguez pipes in uplifting 70s music as we walk.
Our group finds Julia in her bedroom, alone, and wrapped in blankets. She is anguished with terror dreams of being beaten by three interrogating “judges.”
Then, in the study, fearful Christina (emotional Sarita Ocón) reads a French grammar book, and easy-going Cindy (calm Jennifer Ikeda), playfully reads Ripley’s Believe It or Not. But Cindy soon reveals her nightmares about men molesting her.
In the all green, old-fashioned kitchen, teacher Paula (precise Stacy Ross) ponders the “perfect” length for a relationship. She discovers seven years and three months is the correct amount of time. Her ex-lover, passionate Cynthia (dominating Marga Gomez) attempts to reignite the flame, complicating Paula’s life.
Fefu interrupts these scenes and reminds her friends that they can support each other by simply asking, “Do you want to play croquet?”
We are given a surreal scattered puzzle to piece together. It is possible no two people in the audience will have the exact same thoughts about what is happening.
When all the characters gather back at the house, their dramatic rehearsal unfolds. We see the comradery between all the women: laughter, song and a water fight fill the room.
Costume Designer Sarita Fellows fashions exquisite 30s clothes. Gomez’ pinkish jacket with baggy pants, Sue’s rayon dresses, and other period clothing personify each woman.
Animated Emma (dynamic Cindy Goldfield) climaxes the show in colorful shamanic attire. Her joyous embodiment of renewal contrasts with Julia’s hovering at the edge of death.
What happens when the shotgun goes off again?
See this complex, revolutionary comedy that sets us thinking and talking.
“FeFu and Her Friends” by María Irene Fornés, directed by Pam MacKinnon, at A.C.T., The Strand. Info: ACT-SF.org – to May 1, 2022.
Cast: Catherine Castellanos, Cindy Goldfield, Marga Gomez, Jennifer Ikeda, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, Sarita Ocón, Lisa Anne Porter, and Stacy Ross.
Banner photo: Lisa Anne Porter, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, Cindy Goldfield. Photos by Kevin Berne