Fefu and Her Friends Review - A Thoughtful Examination of Womanhood

 

The cast of Halcyon Theatre's FEFU AND HER FRIENDS

 

Halcyon Theatre opens its 2016-17 season with Fefu and her Friends by María Irene Fornés. This female-driven play centers on the eclectic Fefu and the diverse group of women she invites into her home to plan a charity event. Giddy and dark in equal turns, Fefu and Her Friends features a skilled ensemble of actors that bring Fornés’ text to vivid life, although the production suffers from an apparent lack of organization backstage that deters from an otherwise compelling performance.

 

Laura Stephenson as Emma in Halcyon Theatre's FEFU AND HER FRIENDS

 

Located in residence at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Halcyon Theatre is a truly intimate venue, with seats for perhaps two dozen audience members. Further adding to the up-close-and-personal nature of the performance is the second section of the script, in which audience members are divided into four groups and rotated through four scenes happening in different parts of the house. The cast works well in these intimate spaces, bringing detail and specificity to their choices that makes the characters engaging and believable even to audience members sitting merely feet away.

 

Mary Ann de la Cruz as Julia and Ashley Agbay as Cindy in Halcyon Theatre's FEFU AND HER FRIENDS

 

The execution of the rotation is odd; although the scenes seem to begin and end at the same time, each one begins with an uncomfortably long moment of actors repeating stage business, seemingly to fill time before the scene could start. This, combined with the distraction of sound travelling between two of the performance spaces and a general overabundance of stagehands, does the unfortunate work of pulling audience members out of the story. This is especially unfortunate because the performance itself is so well-done; it is easy to engage completely in the story once the actors begin the scene, but the uncomfortable moments in between detract from the overall experience.

 

Mary Ann de la Cruz as Julia and Eleanor Katz as Fefu in Halcyon Theatre's FEFU AND HER FRIENDS

 

Indeed, this production seems to be especially plagued by bad luck. At my particular performance, the light board shut off completely in the first act, and an audience member’s fall resulted in an ambulance being called, an unfortunate accident that the cast, crew, and front of house staff all seemed desperate to apologize for. Water damage and performances canceled because of near-empty houses were also recounted among the misfortunes to befall Fefu and Her Friends.

 

Allyce Torres as Sue and Mary Ann de la Cruz as Julia in Halcyon Theatre's FEFU AND HER FRIENDS

 

Even in the face of these difficult circumstances, however, the cast perseveres and delivers excellent performances all around. Of particular note are Eleanor Katz, who portrays the titular Fefu’s bubbly eccentricity and profound pain with equal nuance, and Mary Ann de la Cruz, who plays the mentally ill Julia with an intensity that is both frightening and fascinating. I also enjoyed Laura Stephenson as the bohemian Emma; she commits utterly to Emma's melodramatic moments while also revealing the character's vulnerablity. Despite the multitude of characters introduced in quick succession, the solid acting work makes it easy to differentiate them, and the complex and dynamic relationships of the women gathered at Fefu’s place are are approached in the thoughtful manner that this script requires.

 

Laura Stephenson as Emma and Eleanor Katz as Fefu in Halcyon Theatre's FEFU AND HER FRIENDS

 

It must be said as well that Halcyon follows through on its mission statement’s commitment to diversity, with a number of talented women of color gracing the stage. Additionally, the theatre’s practice of what they call radical hospitality, that is to say, the offering of free tickets to those to whom theatre might otherwise be inaccessible, is a noble pursuit that bears mentioning.

 

Maren Rosenberg as Paula in Halcyon Theatre's FEFU AND HER FRIENDS. All photos by Tom McGrath

 

In a perfect world, one without injuries or faulty boards or frenetic staff, Fefu and Her Friends would find easy success. Artistically, it is beautifully done. In practical execution, it falls a bit short. Still, the storytelling is such that it is worth crossing your fingers, wishing away disaster, and coming out to see Fefu and Her Friends at Halycon Theatre.

 

Performance schedule and tickets 

Fefu and Her Friends will be performed August 18 through October 8 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8p.m. and Sundays at 6p.m. Tickets are $20 for guaranteed advance admission or at no-cost through the Radical Hospitality program. For additional information, please visit the Halcyon Theatre website or call 773-413-0454.

 

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