Penn’s Theatre Arts Program will produce Marie Irene Fornes’ Fefu and Her Friends November 20-22 for four performances.
Directed by Theatre Arts Program Director, Dr. Marcia Ferguson, Fefu and Her Friends is the 1977 Obie Award-winning experimental play about a metatheatrical and metaphysical weekend of eight friends in the country in 1935. The Theatre Arts production is both realistic and lyrical, with two-thirds of the performance taking place on a traditional “box setting” in the Annenberg Center’s Montgomery Theatre. Things shift in the middle of the play, however, when the audience will be broken into four groups who will travel through various onstage and backstage spaces in the Annenberg Center to experience, simultaneously, four scenes that refocus audience experience on the individual realities of the play’s eight women. In her script, Fornés directs that the audience will leave the theater setting for these scenes, but leaves it to individual production to create the “environmental theatre” experience.
It was, in part, this unconventional and impressionistic dramaturgy that attracted Dr. Ferguson to the play, where the questions asked and answers understood will vary according to each audience member. Theatre-Arts senior and senior thesis candidate Nicole Sadaniantz grapples with the significance and challenges of Fefu’s complex play script: “I think Fornés’s play is important because it’s about questions — regarding both self and community. It’s about that which we cannot know, and the strength it takes to strive to know. It’s an intellectual play, but it’s also compassionate.”
Actor Claris Park, who is also majoring in Theatre Arts, notes that rather than finding clarity through the rehearsal process, “Fefu is a play that gets more and more mysterious, the more you come in contact with it. It is absolutely beautiful in that every time it is read, every time it is performed, every time it is watched, something new is added to this net of relationships of these strong women, and in the end, you derive your own truth of whether or not everything is real.”
Fefu’s “deeply layered text,” according to actor and Theatre Arts major Grayce Hoffman, creates an “energy that is translated to the stage, so every actor is alive and engaged each moment.” The deep layering of the script has won widespread critical acclaim. The play’s feminist underpinnings have resulted in many revivals since its original downtown New York production, and recent focus has been given to its connections to Susan Sontag, who some believe to be personified in the character of Fefu. Sontag was the playwright’s lover for seven years and three months — a timeframe specifically discussed in the play’s dialogue as the average lifetime of a romance.
Actor Alessandra Rodriguez, who plays Fefu, has made deep connections to her role after a six-week rehearsal process, but remarks the eponymous character’s challenges are ongoing: “Fefu has been a fantastic challenge and still continues to be one. Her constant battle onstage is heroic and extremely valid for today’s audience. Everyone has ‘judges’ or inner voices that try to tear us down. We too get ‘exhausted’ and we have to ‘Fight!’ If not, the ‘unusual in us will perish.’”