Groundbreaking feminist feature comes to Cap

When you think of the feminist movement, what comes to mind? Women in the '70's burning their bra's and refusing to shave their legs? Or do you picture Suffragettes in the 1920’s picketing for the right to vote and wear pants? 

Fefu and Her Friends isn't the newest Pixar movie, but it is the season opening play from Exit 22 Productions, Capilano's Theatre program. Written at the height of the feminist movement in the 1977, it is a unique and compelling insight into the lives of women in 1930s America.  

Marie Irene Fornes developed her play Fefu while a member of New York Theatre Strategy, a “space where playwrights could test out their ideas and have control over their work.  Fornes used the layout of the playhouse as impetus to write a promenade play, where “the audience follows the actors to various locations”.  

I had the pleasure of speaking with Des Price, director of Fefu and her friends, and he kindly took me on a tour of the five different scene locations for this award-winning play.

Act 1 starts in the living room, with the entire audience surrounding the actors. From there, the audience breaks off into four groups of 20 people. Taken by guides, who are dressed as domestic help, to the four different scenes.

The brilliance of this style of theatre is that all four scenes occur simultaneously, so while a group is watching the scene in the kitchen, another may be in the bedroom, study, or lawn. This heightens the realism, being up close and personal with the actors, and is an intense and personal way to experience the play. Price agrees, “it definitely gives a stronger impact.” Not until the final act does the audience convene in its entirety back in the living room.  

Fornes's original staging of the play used the various rooms of the New York playhouse to maximize the realism and immediacy of the dialog. Throughout all the scenes, the character of Fefu comes and goes, much as would occur in a house full of people. Price likes how this style makes the play “much more interesting, as there is no room for artifice.” Most of the smaller scenes are very personal.  

The challenges for the actors face are magnified as well, for instead of one performance, they must give four, back to back, each with the same intensity and emotion, “Most of the smaller scenes are very personal,” Price admits, telling me about Michelle Vinne's seven-minute monologue in the bedroom, “so the demands for the actors are especially high”.

They must also overcome the basic stage production need to be “larger than life”, careful not to over-dramatize actions and dialogue for a large audience. Since that audience is right there with the actors, the play has an organic feel to it.  

As we are reminded of the progress the Women's movement has made in North America by recent events in Afghanistan, a play such as Fefu and Her Friends is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1977. Right on, Sister. 

 Fefu and her friends will kick off on October 20th at 8pm in the Performing Arts Theatre at Capilano University. The show runs nightly through to the 25th, with matinee shows being held at 2pm on October 24 and 25th. Tickets are $10/12, and can be ordered over the phone (604) 990-7810 or purchased online at http://tickets.capilanou.ca.

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com