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'Fefu, Friends' Right at Home in UC Irvine Period Piece

February 09, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — It is 1935. At Fefu's country home, seven other women are joining her to spearhead a movement toward education reform. In Maria Irene Fornes' drama "Fefu and Her Friends," there is much more than that going on. Education has little to do with the personal games and social tilting that erupt during the day and evening.

Fornes re-creates a moment in time unlike any other. Women were beginning to realize some independence, even though it was only nominal. They were struggling to find their way, and some of them were stumbling. Others were falling by the wayside. These are Fefu and her friends, and they give an idea how much things have changed.

The play has aura of surrealism that helps to pinpoint Fornes' intent, and in the UC Irvine drama department's current production, director Danielle Bedau has a good grasp of these shadings and actions in the script.

She also re-creates a marvelous sense of period, and her actresses capture many nuances of that day. They wear Arleen Shulman's excellent mid-'30s costumes as as though they always have worn them in Barbara Krug's period-perfect settings. The detail of the personalities they have realized is as 1935 as it can get.

Sarah Richardson is the flamboyant, slightly askew Fefu, who uses a rifle to take potshots through the French doors at her husband in the garden--the gun might or might not be loaded with blanks. Anne James Dreiling's extrovert Emma is almost as superficially Bohemian as Fefu, with an added extravagance of theatrical dash that shouldn't ring true but always does.

Ashley West Leonard as Cindy is wiser than she looks, and Dana Jacks as Christina is less wise than she pretends; both are unwilling to move from their opposite poles.

There is the cloud of madness in Juju Violet's wheelchair-bound Julia, and it does ring true and resounds with a current of danger that is more real than her friends believe. The simplicity and basic shallowness of Anna Fitzwater's Sue contrasts with the simmering heat of the broken love affair of Marika Becz's Paula and Laura Hartpence's Cecelia.

They all give delicate and delicious performances under Bedau's guidance, with Dreiling, Becz and Jacks standing out for the extra shadings in their portraits.

A vibrant tension is maintained throughout, though nothing of dramatic power happens during the day except self-revelation, a tension kept up even during the middle section of the play as the audience is led through various rooms in the house to spy on the group as they break into smaller units.

If there is a problem in this sterling production, it is the obviousness of Brad Nelson's lighting design, which is much too bright most of the time for the mood of Fornes' emotional tone poem, only dimming to interestingly shadowed mystery to point a finger at the more dramatic moments.

* "Fefu and Her Friends," Studio Theatre, School of the Arts, corner of Mesa and Bridge, UC Irvine. Through Sunday, 8 p.m. $6. (714) 824-2787. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Sarah Richardson: Fefu

Ashley West Leonard: Cindy

Dana Jacks: Christina

Juju Violet: Julia

Anne James Dreiling: Emma

Anna Fitzwater: Sue

Marika Becz: Paula

Laura Hartpence: Cecelia

A UC Irvine Drama at UCI Stage 2 Production of Maria Irene Fornes' drama. Directed by Danielle Bedau. Scenic design: Barbara Krug. Costume design: Arleen Shulman. Lighting design: Brad Nelson. Stage manager: Erik E. Hedblom.

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