Critical Context

Fefu and Her Friends is Maria Irene Fornes’s best-known play. Fornes received an Obie Award for playwriting for the script, and numerous productions have been staged since the first performance in 1977. During the 1970’s, a period of overt feminist discussion and action, producing an Off-Broadway play by a woman writer and director and having an all-female cast were seen as noteworthy accomplishments. Although the play does not include any Latino roles or issues, Fornes was early hailed as one of the emerging Chicana playwrights. She is often cited as the “godmother” of Chicano drama, especially for her years of conducting a theater workshop that developed and encouraged many Chicana writers.

As writer, director, and teacher, Fornes is a leading figure in contemporary theater. She has written more than two dozen stage plays since her first, Tango Palace (pr. 1963, pb. 1971), opened in 1963 (under the title There! You Died at the Encore Theatre, San Francisco). The 1999-2000 season at Signature Theatre Company in New York was devoted to plays from her oeuvre, culminating with the premiere of Letters from Cuba (pr. 2000), the first play in which Fornes deals with her Cuban American heritage. For that play Fornes received her tenth Obie Award, one of which is for Sustained Achievement in Theater.

Fefu and Her Friends is designed to provoke its audience with an experience that is emotionally challenging and intellectually stimulating. The play first appeared toward the end of an era of “theater of the absurd” by such noted male writers as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet, whose works had accustomed audiences to experimental plays that lacked conventional plots. Fornes’s plays were embraced as work coming from previously unheard voices. Absurdist drama typically reflects the writer’s thoughts about the irrational and stifling aspects of society and the pressures on the individual. In that tradition, Fefu and Her Friends shows women trapped in their lives and their roles, with the unspoken message that those in the audience must be the ones to find solutions.