“My husband married me as a constant reminder of how repulsive women are.”
It was the opening line of the subtly feminist play, “Fefu and Her Friends,” which the UA Department of Performing Arts presented from March 24-26. A nuanced performance full of chemistry, female friendship, internal conflict and hilarity, the production of this Nadia Guevara-directed comedy-drama struck an influential chord.
The show, written by María Irene Fornés, is divided into three acts and takes place during a spring day in a New England home in 1935. The show begins with the introduction of Fefu (Zoe Babbit), a housewife who hosts seven of her other friends at her house for an undescribed event to be held later.
As the women arrive – Cindy (Sedona Salb), Christina (Cate Ginsberg), Julia (Danielle Cohen), Paula (Sirra Faal), Sue (Grace Perry), Emma (Ava Markhovsky) and Cecilia (Ava Wilson) – a whirlwind of chaotic events occur. Fefu uses a gun to shoot her husband blanks offstage, Christina sucks on ice cubes made of bourbon to deal with Fefu-induced anxiety, and Emma regales the women with her expensive outfit and fancy costume.
Throughout these actions, it becomes clear that every woman is in a different phase of learning to reject her femininity or embrace it. All struggle with some level of internalized misogyny – some find it harder than others to put words to their feelings.
These themes are present through each woman’s words, actions, and even costumes. Fefu wears a nice suit and tie ensemble and pokes fun at her dysfunctional relationship, but still acknowledges in a long soliloquy that men have power and “natural strength” while women don’t. With Christina, she buys into the idea that women can’t trust or get along with each other.
The second act was set in a non-traditional structure that also allowed for a more detailed and personal experience. The audience was divided into four groups and taken by guides to different “rooms” in Fefu’s house. These four scenes were played simultaneously and repeated until each of the four groups was taken to all sections of the stage and watched all four scenes. The segments cover seemingly random conversation topics, from genitals and croquet in the garden to deep dream thinking and reading French in the study.
Each actor delivered a phenomenal performance that allowed the audience to intimately feel the weight of the separate conversations. Thoughtful pauses in conversation contributed to a natural flow, making interactions more believable. The impactful scenes continue to show the support and love between women who challenge the patriarchal ideal that surrounded them in the 1930s.
Additionally, the scenes in the halls also explore the theme of symbolic hunting and how this is reflected in what a woman has experienced in the face of societal expectations. A clear example of this is seen in Julia’s dream where she exclaims that ‘judges’ found her and violently attacked her because she refused to be ‘good and quiet’ about her. reportedly shot in a hunting accident.
The play’s third and final act is fast-paced, tackling the themes of privilege and wealth. There was a weird scene where the women got into a fight over who should wash the dishes, taking their maturity as fully realized adults and temporarily destroying it.
This segment can be interpreted either as empowering because women feel comfortable enough to step out of these “perfect” roles, or as insulting by infantilizing them as young girls. And surprisingly, the play ends shortly after – very suddenly and unexpectedly – while coming full circle with a heartbreaking and tearful goodbye.
Overall, the costume and set design were impeccable and reminiscent of 1930s upper-class society, even down to the upper-class Mid-Atlantic accent. The talent and impact of Hidden Messages cannot be overstated. Guevara wrote in the show’s program that she wanted to “create something that speaks to the female experience before the vocabulary explaining the experience could be broadly defined”.
Without a doubt, she delivers, allowing audiences to identify with and relate to the real, current issues facing Fefu and her friends.