The F-word is being redefined as Chicago’s theater scene addresses Feminism, an all-female cast, free admission and “Fefu and Her Friends,” thanks to Halcyon Theatre. Written by María Irene Fornés, an avant-garde leader of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway movement,”Fefu and Her Friends” gets a new inventive spin in Halcyon’s production, which moves the audience from room to room for each scene and waives ticket fees through its Radical Hospitality program.
“I had the privilege of being directed by Irene, herself, in this very show 20 years ago,” recalls Eleanor Katz, who initially played Julia but has the lead as Fefu this time around. “I was so young, I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of the woman I was working with at the time. So, for me, this is a chance to revisit the play in a different role and at a very different time in my life. I revel in being able to speak the words of such an influential female playwright whose work is so beautiful and raw.”
Directing the 20th Century drama is the company’s artistic director, Tony Adams, who believes, “only Eugene O’Neill has had a greater impact on the American theater” than Fornés.
“I think it’s remarkable that Fornés set this play in the 1930s in the midst of The Great Depression when jobs were scarce and there were fierce class struggles,” says Tamika Lecheé Morales, who portrays lesbian Cecilia Johnson. “These women are fighting to find their place in society. They were not your typical housewives and mothers in those times. These women are affluent, well educated, come from various backgrounds and have different backstories that help women embrace their individuality because everyone has something to bring to the table. Fefu and her friends are outspoken, in touch with their sexuality and are not bogged down by the traditional gender roles that society placed on them. It’s a great mix of married women, lesbians and singles who are all supportive of one another and working together for a common cause.”
The play centers around eight New Englanders rehearsing for a charity event in 1935. “Amidst the patriarchal backdrop, the collective of female characters in the play gives us a sense of how significant community plays were in the lives of these women who are trying to navigate their way through societal expectations, challenging circumstances and restrictive relationships,” explains Mary Ann de la Cruz, who plays Julia, a frail and damaged woman.
“Being a feminist during the 1930s is not so different from being a feminist now,” adds Ashley Agbay, who portrays Cindy, a character seeking empowerment. “Nothing about the women in this play feels outdated. They yearn to share their voice, earn respect, and make an impact. It’s comforting in that it’s surprisingly easy to relate to them. It’s also terrifying because it means we still have a ways to go.”
“Fefu and Her Friends”—which also features Maren Rosenberg, Sarah Rachel Schol, Laura Stephenson, and Allyce Torres—will be performed on Thursdays and weekends from Aug. 18 through Oct. 8. To learn more, visit halcyontheatre.org/fefu or call 773-413-0454.