Fefu and Her Friends
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Through May 28
Hollyhock House was originally constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1921 to be not only the residence of heiress Aline Barnsdall, but also an arts and theater complex. The Mayan Revival style house, built around a central courtyard, finally hosts its first play and provides a hauntingly appropriate environment for Fefu and Her Friends.
Irene Maria Fornés’s 1977 exploration into the mindsets of strong-willed society matron Fefu (Tunde Skovron) and her seven convention-defying friends is directed with a skillful command of space and pace by Kate Jopson. During the course of an entire Spring day and evening in Fefu’s 1930s New England home, these women, who have gathered to rehearse a charity fund-raising presentation, offer scenic interludes that underscore a strong feminist rebellion against a society dominated by men, yet reveal their individual complicity within this society.
Fornés, who was involved in Murray Menick’s experimental Padua Hills Playwrights workshops in the late 1970s, deconstructed the stage setting for Fefu, setting scenes in multiple locations. Director Jopson fluidly moves the action, utilizing Hollyhock House’s extensive interior, placing scenes simultaneously in a living room, a study, a lawn, a bedroom, and a kitchen. Starting in the living room, the audience is divided into small-groups, rotating through four scenes so that each group can experience the whole play.
Although this work focuses on the thoughts and feelings of female characters, there is an unrelenting aura of male presence that permeates the proceedings. Fefu’s husband is wandering the estate with other men, unseen by the audience but commented on by the women. Skovron imbues Fefu with a hyper masculinity, dominating her friends with her exuberant physicality. But there is also a deep sadness in her for the loss of her husband’s love. In a conversation with her friend Julia (Julia Ubrankovics), her composure cracks. She admits, “I need him, Julia. I need his touch. I need his kiss. I need the person he is.”
Ubrankovics offers a nearly mesmerizing portrayal of Julia, confined to a wheelchair following a freak shooting accident that left her crippled. In a hallucinogenic meltdown in the bedroom, she slowly tears off her clothes and confides, “If a man commits an evil act, he must be pitied. The evil comes from outside him, through him and into the act. Woman generates the evil herself.”
As the scenes develop, further revelations are made. Cindy (Guerin Piercy) describes a dream about a doctor who fondles her. Emma (Caro Zeller) offers a tantalizing treatise on genitalia. Paula (Kacie Rogers) and Cecilia (Christine Uhehe) move furtively towards and away from each other, afraid of being forever branded by their former love affair. Christina (Talia Davis) and Sue (Claudia Zielke) meanwhile appear as foils for the machinations of the more exuberant characters, such as Fefu and Emma.
Throughout the evening, the action is punctuated by Daniel Szabo’s original score, performed by the duo of Ian Walker (bassist) and Julia Harnoy (trombonist). Choreography was provided by Zsófia Nemnes.
Throughout the scenes, a sense of feminist comradere is more felt than realized. And Jopson builds the action to a joyous, self-congratulatory water fight. These women are powerful in their friendships and their ability to wail against injustices but are still forty years away from establishing a platform for feminist action.
Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Sat., Sun. & Mon., 8 p.m.; through May 28; (213) 978-0283 or www.circletheatre.org/fefu. Running time: 2 hours, no intermission.