January 20, 2001


Fefu and her Friends

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning


























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Fefu, FornÚs, and Chickspeare, please visit ArtSavant and Chickspeare.

Fefu and her Friends, performed at the Off-Tryon Theatre Company, on a gritty backstreet in the NoDa neighborhood, offers Charlotte's all-woman Chickspeare eight complicated, intelligent characters, rich in wisdom and mystery. Gathered for a weekend at a country home, the women perform a dance of words, exploring peripheral relationships, past bonds of love and pain, feminine strength, and the ways women can love and sabotage each other.

Playwright Irene FornÚs, a contemporary theater icon who sat in the audience and joined in a post production discussion, doesn't introduce her characters in a traditional format. Instead we meet each one in midstream of either a relationship, a crisis, or self exploratory diatribe. The play was written in the 1970's, at the inception of the feminist movement. Fornes remembers it was a time when female imagery and fears and feelings of bliss were being newly discussed.

Fefu, played flamboyantly by the gorgeous Karen Doyle, hosts the gathering. She is a strong, eccentric woman whose omnipresent (but never seen) husband casts a shadow on her otherwise confident personality. She is joined by Cindy, who looks like a burgeoning suburban career woman, but is lost and confused, and the straightlaced Christina, who is appalled by Fefu's flippant conversation. Julia arrives in a wheelchair, transformed from a wise, fearless women, into a physical and emotional wreck plagued by hallucinations. Her injury may be real, or it may not.

Sue is Julia's caretaker and the Treasurer of the loosely defined organization that brings the group together. The group's leader is the effervescent Emma, played by Donna Scott, who commands the stage, and embodies her declaration that "life is theatre."

Fefu's Act II breaks convention. The audience is split into fourths and travels from room to room, where each views four mini-plays in different sequence. The effect is startling and intimate. Each of the small sets overflow with fervor and sadness, delirium, love, and fantasy.

In the kitchen we stand feet from two former lovers confronting heartbreak. Next, we stand at the foot of a single, spartan bed as Julia, played hauntingly and beautifully by Meredith McBride, rages against invisible interrogators that threaten to slit her throat, her upper body livid while her legs remain inert. On the lawn Emma and Fefu discuss the joy of the physical body and the terror of broken relationships. In the study Cindy tells Christina about a terrifying dream that leaves her uncertain and yearning for respect.

The audience regroups before the sumptuous main living room set for the third act. One wall is painted with dogwoods against a backdrop of sandstone hills and blue water. The opposite is a Florida grasslands scene with a Japanese like willow in the forefront. Rich maroon velvet drapes an armchair, and the sofas are plush yet comfortable. A bar with wine and bourbon and truffles is so close and inviting we are tempted to help ourselves.

In the program, Director Anne Lambert cautions the audience, "This play is not a puzzle, don't try to solve it." Indeed, Fefu is low on plot but thick with thought provoking dialogue. Fefu wonders whether to grapple with revulsion or avoid it. Paula unlocks the truth that all love affairs last seven years and three months. Julia recognizes her madness but wishes she could be with others who hallucinate also, to break from her isolation. And Emma suspects that "Heaven is populated with divine lovers. And in hell live the duds."

Status quo, it is not. But if you are open having an experience, and being emotionally challenged and intellectually prodded, Fefu and her Friends is a worthy catalyst.

Lynn Trenning, January 20, 2001

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