Irene Maria Fornes' Fefu and Her Friends depicts a gathering of eight women at a large New England mansion, and the middle act consists of four scenes held at separate places in the facility. The audience divides into four groups, files through the theater and watches each episode in turn.
Thus the entrance to the theater doubles as the lawn, a storage room, a study, etc. It's a gimmicky device, but it puts an interesting spin on the notion of the "fourth wall" of a performing space, as well as offering a fun tour of the playhouse's backstage area. But mostly, it's like being on a scavenger hunt, only the object of the game isn't to find a physical prize, but the meaning of the play itself.
Fefu and Her Friends, written in 1977 and only now having its Southeastern professional premiere, is not a play that's easily puzzled out. In exploring the ways women see themselves and how they believe men see them, Fornes shows little concern for adhering to narrative rules or meeting audience expectations. Fornes' Fefu is driven not by plot, but an odd combination of cheerful party dynamics and deeper, darker forces, and its scenes can please or provoke, but rarely fully satisfy.
Fefu (Patricia French) plays host to seven friends in 1935 for a meal and a politically motivated meeting. Aggressively nonconformist, she's prone to outlandish remarks and behavior, like firing at her off-stage husband with a rifle that may or may not contain a blank cartridge. Of the other women, some are longtime companions, some are strangers with shared beliefs. The most unsettling character is Julia (Jennifer Levison), confined to a wheelchair having suffered spinal damage -- and lingering delusions -- after a hunting accident.
The first and third acts, each roughly a half-hour, take place on Rochelle Barker's cozily realistic set, and show the women first coming together, and later holding their meeting and clowning around. For the middle sequence, director Wier Harman largely succeeds with the striking logistic feat of having four scenes happening simultaneously, with some women leaving one scene to appear in another. You can even overhear scenes from different rooms, like the events of an actual party.