It is easy to dismiss Fefu and Her Friends as a stereotypical play about troubled women, and before seeing it, I probably would have done the same. Its premise sounds cliché enough. Centered on eight women in the 1930s, with no male presence whatsoever, the play features the many woes of Fefu and her friends as they explore their sexuality, redefine friendships, and even question their sanity. However, the play goes much deeper than the stereotypical, “modern” female relationships exemplified by Sex and the City.
This is one reason why the play’s director, third-year William Glick, was drawn to it. Fefu was “not only multi-tonal but also echoed a lot of different genres of theater,” Glick explained. “There are echoes of Chekhov, Ibsen, melodrama, absurdism, and political theater all within the span of about 50 pages of text.” It would have been very easy to turn the nuanced script into some sort of feel-good production about female empowerment. However, Glick has managed to get to the heart of the play—a more universal, nongendered message. “What I tried to focus on is what it is like to be a member of a group, especially a group where all the members are defined by some kind of social label. In this case, women,” Glick said. “I think in all communities there is a tension between wanting to be yourself and wanting to conform to standards of the group.”
The eight women featured in the play are: Fefu, the insecure main character who has lost her way in life; Cindy, one of Fefu’s oldest friends; Christina, the newcomer who is both fascinated and horrified by Fefu’s wildness; Julia, an invalid who frequently hallucinates that she is being tortured; Emma, Fefu’s charismatic mentor; Paula and Cecilia, ex-lovers; and Sue, the responsible and caring matriarch of the group. Fefu’s basic plot focuses on this group of friends as they prepare to put on a play-within-a-play about the importance of education. But the main thematic focus of the production lies in how the characters develop due to their interactions with each other and their environment. Allison McCaffrey, who plays Sue, sums it up the best: “What excites me the most about Fefu is the way that it takes a fairly banal activity [meeting to go over a presentation] that is then transformed into an interesting look at the way a community is formed and the way it can also fall apart.”
Each of the eight women face their own inner demons. Through their thoughtful musings and candid conversations about the various problems they face, the audience is able to examine their own insecurities and misgivings about life. We can relate to at least one of the eight characters—we understand and sympathize with them. When Fefu declares that men are given strength, whereas women have to find it (and are subsequently bitter about this search), I could identify with that struggle. When Paula laments about the seven year expiration date for all love affairs, you think back to your own failed relationships. Yet Fefu is especially relatable. At times she is confident, and at other, terrified and insecure. She is the glue of the group, but also needs the group to keep her sane. She craves attention, but doesn’t care for it when it’s given to her. Her paradoxical nature defines the show. It is her journey more than anyone else’s that keeps us locked into the play and the rest of the characters bolster her development. Anne Considine, who plays Julia, seconds this notion: “I’d particularly like the audience to come away feeling that they have seen all the different aspects of Fefu’s psyche.”
To visually represent this changing world, stage manager Grace Fisher collaborated with Glick to create what he calls a “plush Barbie house” interpretation of Fefu’s home—lots of pink with flowered sofas and bright fabrics. Another characteristic of Fefu is the very deliberate, yet subtle, use of light and sound. Lighting technician Ben Shapiro echoes these sentiments, but adds that there are certain scenes which are particularly challenging. One such instance is Julia’s hallucination scene midway through the play, an episode that Shapiro calls both “brilliant and disturbing.”
Fefu’s women are both strong and weak, confident and insecure, honest and deceitful. In this play, we see the inner workings of a female group taken to the extreme. Personalities emerge, monologues reveal powerful emotions, and all of these scenes climax into a shocking ending. Fefu And Her Friends may be set in the 1930s, but it is truly a story that transcends time. The story is not carried by the plot, but by its rich characters. It is not just a play by women for women; it’s a play for people that uses the emotional nature of women to show the insecurities and fallacies of everyone. Fefu and Her Friends is a play about discovery that everybody, X or Y chromosomes aside, can take something from.