By: Jennifer Ward and Tyler Thompson
"Fefu and Her Friends" poster (Picture via @purchasetheater on Instagram)
This weekend began the week-long run of “Fefu and Her Friends” a play coming to Purchase that will have audiences experiencing theater in a brand new way.
This show centers around the experience of being a woman in the 1930s, and with five different sets, this show creates an immersive experience like no other. Assistant director and senior theater and performance and literature major, Grace Castle, said, “You get a view into how they're all individually coping with the patriarchy, mental illness, and homophobia.” She continued, “The restrictions that have been placed on them and the restrictions that are kind of starting to strangle them.”
In the show, which opened on Oct. 29, Fefu, played by Lillian Perez, invites her friends over to work on their agenda about the education system. With a show centering around all, female characters, queer characters included, and mental illness, playwright Maria Irene Fornés broke barriers with this show.
Dramaturg and junior theater and performance major Tess Walsh said, “It does talk about class, sexuality, gender roles, and how men and women were looked at at the time.” They continued, “I would recommend not trying to overanalyze the characters, if you just go into it and accept them for who they are I think that's the point of the play and that's how you're going to experience and understand it best.”
Understudy and sophomore theater and performance major Eva Doyle said, “You can see how powerful women are and how much they were held back in that time.”
The actors enter deep emotions during this show, sucking the audience into the performance. “It goes into this surrealist, very raw vulnerable place where they’re figuring out the struggles of being women, but not in that stereotypical 1930s feminist way,” said assistant scenic designer and senior scenic design major Jessie Marr. “It’s very much more like what it means to recognize that you are a female in a male-dominated world, and struggling with that inner misogyny and overall insecurities.”
With no particular solution or ending to the show, a lot can be left up to the audience's own interpretation. “It's the kind of show where you can take one sentence into 100 different directions and each of those directions changes an entire part of it,” said Cayd Barrera, a junior theater and performance major who is also playing Sue in “Fefu and Her Friends.”
“The characters don’t walk away like ‘Oh we’re feminist icons,’ they walk away still struggling [and] acknowledging that everyone is struggling. It’s a universal womanhood experience,” said Marr.
The playwright of this show, Fornés, is also a part of Fornés fest here on campus, including a collection of a lot of her produced works.
“She's such an icon, and to be able to do research on her and share her vision and the way that, hopefully, she would have wanted has been a real honor,” said Walsh. “This is also obviously a deeply feminist work and a deeply queer work as well.”
“I just really love Fornés as a playwright, I think she's really brilliant and has a really interesting way of seeing the world and finding beauty and intrigue in the things you don't want to look at and the things that you wouldn't think to look at,” said Castle.
One of the set designs (Photo by Tyler Thompson)
So much time and effort were put into the production of this show, said the cast and crew. Senior design technology major and the scenic designer of the show Charli Burkhardt started working on the show and trying to make the world come to life in August.
“I like to embody the world of where the script wants to be, and speak on behalf of the script and the world and make it unfold for other people to see,” said Burkhardt.
The show is unique not only in the way of plot but in the technical aspects as well. The show takes place in five different locations, meaning that throughout the show the audience is moved into different locations in an organized fashion, not typical of a usual production where the set is just switched.
“We wanted to extend the elasticity of the space and cause it to play and be malleable between the real and the surreal,” said Burkhardt. “So it's been a lot of fun to play with that because there are points where Fefu comes in and out of reality, and things are distorted in a way. So the reality of what you're seeing is not always real if that makes sense in that design concept world.”
As the dramaturg, Walsh had to do a lot of research so they could help bring the show together even more. Walsh said, “I had to do a lot of historical research, a lot of archival research, and digging shit up. I had to share that in a way that's accessible and easy to understand for the cast, crew, designers, and whoever else needed it.”
Senior design technology major Ben Free, the sound designer for “Fefu,” has expressed how much time and effort they have had to devote to the production. Free had to set up the sound system and work on cues with the actors and lighting designers to bring the whole show together.
Free said, “It's a matter of giving it to the dramaturg of the show itself and kind of timing it all out seeing what needs to happen when and following the actors and following the lighting and making sure the shows a whole cohesive thing.” “It's been a lot of wearing multiple hats at once,” they continued.
(Photo by Tyler Thompson)
“This became a lot larger than anyone anticipated in my opinion and I really hope people really love the immersion,” said Burkhardt. Regardless of the amount of effort put into this show, the cast and crew said that they know that their work is worth it. “I just want to spotlight again the stage management team and then the production team as well,” said Barrera.
“It’s a bunch of DT [design and technology] students and it's been really cool to work with them and they're all wonderful human beings and such incredibly hard workers and this show would not be possible without any single one of them,” continued Barrera.
“The stage managing, the stage crew, [and] this whole crew put in their all,” agreed Doyle. “It’s insane the [amount] of work people did. So the people you’re going to see on stage is a huge part of it, the people in the crew, [and] the amount of work they put in blows my mind.”
You can see “Fefu and Her Friends” on Nov. 2, 3, and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 5 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m in the CMFT Performance Theater (CMFT 0061).