SLC Mainstage’s reimagining of the play Fefu and Her Friends, originally written and produced in 1977 by Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés, challenges a number of physical and emotional boundaries in terms of staging. In fact, even before the show’s run, it was widely circulated that this production would break Sarah Lawrence ground with its unusual venue.
Instead of using one of Sarah Lawrence’s many black box or proscenium stages, Fefu took place in Westlands Admissions. Director Katie Pedro (‘17 Theatre MFA ) discussed the process of choosing this performance space to fit the show’s particular needs. “I did not always know that I was going to do it at Westlands,” she said. “I had this first idea that was completely different, that it happened in a dance studio.” After she scrapped that plan, she took a walk around campus, finally discovering the perfect location. “I had never been to admissions, because I’m a graduate student, so we don’t ever go there,” she said. “And when I walked in, it was just like, ‘This is the place; it has to happen here. It was practically made for it.’”
Furnishing Westlands to accommodate Fefu wasn’t a large stretch set-wise; the building already contains several lavish furniture pieces fit for the play’s 1930’s New England setting.
The building also benefits from a previously unrecognized capacity for LED lighting— an addition that the student body might have noticed about Westlands in these past few nights.
Pedro hadn’t considered special lighting a priority until her collaborator Luke Miller (‘17 Theatre MFA) - a designer and production manager for DownStage - suggested installing LEDs. In soft shades of green and pink, the ground lighting added an otherworldly vibe to the outdoor scenes during night performances. “[It allowed] the third act be less naturalistic,” Pedro said. “I cannot describe how much it added to my vision. I do a lot of image work, and [Miller’s] really great at pulling from that.”
But one reason for staging Fefu in Westlands, which rose above all others in importance, was that it actually affected thematic as well as spatial elements of the play. Fornés herself intended for the third act of Fefu to consist of a sequence of scenes that take place simultaneously in different areas of the performance space; naturally, presenting the play in a multiple-roomed building worked spectacularly.
One thing Fornés—and Pedro—hoped to encourage with their staging was the idea of unintentional eavesdropping. “You can kind of always hear Julia, and the sounds of the slaps or the gunshot, and when you’re in the living room you can hear the scene outside,” Pedro explained. “It was exciting to me to see audience members hear something and look and be distracted by it, because that was something I was really interested in.”
Each room, as its own enclosed performance space, also encourages an intimate relationship between the players and the audience.
“This play is really Brechtian in nature… [but] I did not want to stage it to be overtly Brechtian, where we’re really isolating the audience, so I think that the intimacy of the space actually goes really well with that,” Pedro said of her approach. “Intimacy and transparency kind of fought each other in how I staged the play, and I think that really worked. And it was hard for the actors too, because there are moments where they’re having these really intimate lovers’ fights that we as an audience really feel and understand, and then a stage manager gets up and pulls you to a different place.”
Even so, it’s a test of the strength of an actor’s relationship to their character to find moments of intimacy that the director might not see. Although Pedro isn’t a fan of fourth-wall breaks, which she believes are employed far too often in comedy and have devolved into a tired technique, she still recognizes their ability to elicit a quick but powerful audience reaction. According to Pedro, actor Dvorah Gitlitz (‘20), who played the role of Paula, felt the need to cross that boundary during a rehearsal of an impassioned monologue: doing so with results that awed Pedro.
“We ended up keeping it. It had to stay That was really exciting, that moment of, ‘Oh, they’re really starting to understand this play and what’s important about it,’” Pedro said. “I was excited that we had a rehearsal environment where they could break the rules— and when they knew that they should.”
Peck Trachsel '20