The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A three-act play (noted in the script as “parts,” not “acts”), Fefu and Her Friends is set in a country house in New England, with all the action taking place in one day. Parts 1 and 3 take place in the living room, the first in the morning and the third in the evening. Part 2, which covers the afternoon hours, has four sets: the lawn, the study, the bedroom, and the kitchen.

Fefu’s friends Cindy and Christina are already in the living room when the play opens, and the other women arrive at the house by lunchtime, invited there to prepare a presentation for an education group of which they are members. Most of them have been friends for some time, and during the day and evening they collect in pairs or in groups of varying size, talking about themselves, their lives, each other, and especially about Fefu, the central figure who knows them all. Fefu says whatever is on her mind, whether or not it appears appropriate or relevant, often with the apparent intent of shocking the others. It is her house party, and she flamboyantly attracts, and apparently wants to attract, most of the attention.

Another major topic for all the women, again talking in small groups rather than in one big group discussion, concerns Julia. She has been injured in a shooting accident and is confined to a wheelchair, and throughout the day she needs assistance. Exactly what happened to her is unclear. It is a matter of considerable speculation, since...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The most striking device is the innovative staging of part 2, which confounds the usual expectations and blurs the boundaries of performance space. During the first act, the audience is seated together in a theater auditorium to view the action on stage. However, part 2 is presented outside the main theater area on four sets to represent a lawn, study, bedroom, and kitchen. For this act the audience is divided into four groups and each group is led to one of the spaces. The four scenes are performed simultaneously. When the scenes are finished (as close to the same time as possible), each audience group moves on to the next set to watch the actors there, who repeat the scene they presented to the previous group. This moving is repeated until each group has seen all four scenes. Then the audience is led back into the main auditorium to watch part 3 together, as they did part 1. The audience literally does not see the same play, since they do not see the scenes in part 2 in the same order and since there are inevitable minor differences in the performances that the cast repeats four times.

Another dramatic device is the use of frequent entrances and exits that create different groups on stage from one moment to another. The women come and go and regroup in different combinations in all three acts. Those on stage do not necessarily participate in the scene; sometimes they do not pay attention to each other when there are only two present. During part 2, for...

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(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Austin, Gayle. “The Madwoman in the Spotlight.” In Making a Spectacle, edited by Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

Chaudhuri, Una. “Maria Irene Fornes.” In Speaking on Stage, edited by Philip Kolin and Colby Kullman. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Delgado, Maria M., and Caridad Svich, eds. Conducting a Life: Reflections on the Theatre of Maria Irene Fornes. North Stratford, N.H.: Smith and Kraus, 1999.

Kent, Assunta Bartolomucci. Maria Irene Fornes and Her Critics. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996.

Robinson, Mark, ed. The Theatre of Maria Irene Fornes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.