BWW Review: Surreal Dramedy FEFU AND HER FRIENDS Invades the Odyssey Theatre
FEFU AND HER FRIENDS, a surreal dramedy by Maria Irene Fornés, known as an early feminist giant of the avant-garde, challenges modern audiences in that the play is plotless except for the fact eight women with very different agendas, personalities, and sexual orientations have gathered in the country home of their eccentric friend, Fefu, to plan an event for their do-gooding educational work. As multiple conflicts unfold between the old friends, they struggle to define who they are and what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated world.
In a format that was groundbreaking for its time, the play is divided into three parts with the first taking place in the living room of the house with the full audience in attendance. After the first scene, the characters divide the audience into four separate groups of approximately 20-25 people, then escort each group into one of four different areas of the house: the lawn, the study, a bedroom and the kitchen, all of which have been constructed within two of the 3 theaters at the Odyssey. All four scenes take place simultaneously, with the only difference being the order in which all audiences members view them. After intermission, the play concludes in the living room with the full audience.
"This is a play about female empowerment and about all aspects of femininity," shares director Denise Blasor. "With only a small number of audience members present for each scene, they become part of the characters' most intimate reflections about their relationships to men, to each other, to Eve and 'original sin.' It's about the volumes of sadness that we, as women, carry, and how, sometimes, we are the enemies to ourselves instead of being sisters. It's a play about awakening and not surrendering, set in 1935, a wonderfully historic era full of jazz, art, poetry and politics."
Her vision of the play is what attracted me to see it, especially wondering how the various scenes would be depicted around the Odyssey Theatre. But while each of the talented actors portraying the women were brilliant in their roles (Tiffany Cole, Dominique Corona, Sandy Duarte, Tanya Gorlow, Jennifer Lee Laks, Sydney A. Mason, Alexis Santiago, and Cynthia Yelle), I found the lack of any clear purpose or even a reasonable storyline its real downfall. In fact, I am of the belief you should only need to see a play once to understand it and grasp who the characters are as well as the reason for the story, but I feel it would be necessary to see FEFU AND HER FRIENDS half a dozen times to comprehend all the conventional and contradictory ideas being presented in place of a real story.
However, there is one scene that sticks in my memory which took place in the small bedroom where Julia (Sandy Duarte), her legs incapable of supporting her body thus confining her to a wheelchair, lays in bed as her anger grows and possesses her spirit to throw her body into the most amazing, bouncing-off-the-walls choreography I have ever seen. Duarte's all-encompassing performance in this scene alone was the highlight of the production for me.
The multi-room scenic design by Frederica Nascimento has audience members walking down narrow hallways through two of the Odyssey's 3 theaters, a labyrinth of space just as the women's thoughts and interactions seem to be, as we ventured from room to room. Period perfect costumes designed by director Blasor and Josh LaCour reflect the individual personalities of the women, especially for Emma, the more free-spirited of the group who even plays a saxophone during the scene on the lawn. Fefu appears in each of the four scenes going on simultaneously, with small details such as glasses of lemonade and a bowl of soup being prepared in the kitchen and taken to other rooms in the house where the women interact with each other.
I did find it very distracting that loud dialogue in other rooms could be heard in each of the other locations. And if this was intentional, I question that choice since scenes take real concentration to try and comprehend all the ideas being presented. Then again, it's difficult to comprehend a lot that goes on during such an avant-garde production.
Performances of FEFU AND HER FRIENDS take place at the Odyssey Theatre, located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through Sept. 29, with several additional weeknight performances added, as well as special events with post-show discussions. Tickets range from $32 to $37, with additional discounts available at select performances for seniors, students and patrons under 30. For a complete performance schedule, reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to http://www.OdysseyTheatre.com
Photo credit: Enci Box