Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Fefu and Her Friends
It's the great, distilled mystery of women in the world, directed by Gaby Rodriguez for Theatre Nuevo. María Irene Fornés' 95-minute collection of scenes (from 1977) is staged in a private rehabbed home in the historic Benton Park neighborhood, and seems like a sort of haunted house story at the outset: eight young women drift around a large breakfast room in extremely slow motion, with chimes and bells adding to the ethereal mood. And on the night I attended there was also a fabulous electrical storm, the kind we rarely get anymore, which exploded overhead for a good twenty minutes. (Tech note: this should happen every night.)
Looking back now, I can see the "haunted house" feeling stems partly from the thunderstorm, and partly from the way these women seem to emerge out of the dusty attic of the modern mind. They have a strange vulnerability, but assemble like good witches, as opposed to the bad witches in Theatre Nuevo's Halloween offering, whither should I fly. On this night, they will prepare for a "presentation" they have to give soon. CeCe Hill plays Fefu, the host of the party: strident and dynamic and full of opinions, exiting periodically to shoot a rifle at her husband (who is unseen) out in the backyard.
Courtney Bailey-Parker and Lauren Louise are great "active listeners" as the other women make their strange, confounded confessions. Jamie McKittrick directed the magical physicality of the actresses throughout, and also plays a flamboyant, self-assured Emma, swinging halfway out a window (even in the rain). And, the night I attended, a neighbor's dog insisted on jumping into her arms during a scene on the porch. That dog kissed her maniacally, even as Emma wondered if men might be angels, and whether we should all parade our genitals on the outside, to move past the whole conundrum of sexual identity. But the actress never missed a beat, even with that overweight wiener dog in her arms, licking her face. (Also, this should happen every night.)
Thalia Cruz once again plays the delightful new girl, the outsider (as she did in whither should I fly), with Maya J. Christian as enigmatic and quietly forceful Cecilia in her own occasional appearances. The other two characters are a particular kind of mystery, each of their necks seemingly in the hangman's noose. These two characters seem to be speaking out of their own ids, in an Ionesco-type of hyper-literate/totally symbolic English, or perhaps it seems written by Joyce, in its free flow. It's a good time to listen broadly, because the verbiage rushes like spring floodwaters. Sophia Brown (as Julia) leads us through a surprising wormhole, speaking of harsh judges and of torture, till we come out the other side, with what seems like a horrific new overview of the entire history of sexual victimization. During all that, she contorts herself in a remarkable "parallel bars" style gymnastic routine on her character's own wheelchair.
Also metaphorically on the hangman's platform, Amanda Wales (as Paula) develops hard-won understanding of the life cycle of a relationship, which she insists is invariably three years and seven months long (though the outward, physical nature of it may linger, or other relationships may overlap). It clearly hasn't been that long yet, in her tense confrontations with Cecelia (Ms. Christian), which culminates in a sustained, painful moment near the end.
There are no men on stage, but they do come up several times in the script, as angels, or deer hunters, or judges, or simply for target practice. They aren't entirely necessary to the story of these women's pain or fearperhaps only as one kind of mirror the eight may look into. The reflections, like the men themselves, reveal an inner doubt over the need of each woman's presence in the world. Collectively, they will find a sense of worth through other means.
It's like a strange foreign film, made even stranger by its all-too-perfect dubbing into English. I loved it.
Fefu and Her Friends, through April 20, 2019, at a private residence. Advance tickets only; address will be sent to ticket holders no later than one week prior to their performance date. For more information visit https://artful.ly/theatre-nuevo