Fefu (Amelia Workman) hosts a group of friends at her New England home, ostensibly to rehearse for an upcoming educational fundraiser. The rehearsal, however, takes up little of the action in Fefu and Her Friends, María Irene Fornés’ witty, experimental play from the ‘seventies about a group of unfulfilled women who unwind and unload for two hours onstage without the presence of any men. Lovers quarrel and make up, friends toss pots of water onto one another, and Fefu even finds her way to a confession.
You see, despite the scenes of peaceful domesticity, they are all of them profoundly unhappy. “I need him,” Fefu says of her husband, “I need to be everything to him. I try to leave him alone but I can’t. I try to swallow my feelings but I can’t.” Nevertheless, she fears he is leaving her. And despite the respite from masculinity, it remains waiting in the wings: Fefu’s husband wanders around the lawn offstage, and she occasionally shoots blanks at him for fun. “It’s a game we play,” she deadpans. “He told me one day he’ll put real bullets in the guns.”
Fefu is best remembered for its second act, which is performed with the audience onstage. Divided into quarters, we move through each room of the set, sitting or standing close to the actors as they play their scenes four times, once for each section of the audience. This once-innovative dramatic device is fairly common now (see, for example, Fairview and A 24-Decade History) and has therefore lost some of its original vitality. Still, the proximity breeds intimacy with the characters, so long as the actors are able to mute their performances to suit the revised circumstances.
Workman, superb in the title role, is able to modulate just such transitions. With silent movie star eyes and a mischievous smile, she has absolute command over the room. Like Byron, her Fefu is mad, bad, and dangerous to know, a kind of pyromaniac ever taunting her guests with a lit match. But she is also capable of smaller moments, moments of vulnerability, which gives her theatrical flare a melancholy tinge. Fefu, despite her feigned confidence, is as lost and lonely as the rest of them.
Fefu and Her Friends ran through December 12th at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center. 262 Ashland Place Brooklyn, NY. 2 hours. No intermission.