nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
January 10, 2009
Wickets is a fun, exciting, and unique theatrical experience. The play is a radical adaptation of Fefu and Her Friends by Maria Irene Fornes. Fornes's play was written in the '70s and is the story of eight Bryn Mawr alums in 1935 who visit Fefu's house to plan a fundraiser for education. Wickets takes their words, relationships, and personalities and reinvents them as a team of stewardesses on a transatlantic flight in 1971. This transplanting of the script is mostly successful. Best of all, along with all the fun you'd expect with '70s costumes and music, this isn't a show you attend, it's one you board! The play happens all around you in a fantastically elaborate airplane set.
Taking these women off a "stage" and giving them a job to do while we watch them interact at close range is really brilliant. Women in real life seldom sit down with their friends and have important personal conversations free of distraction. There is always an interruption or some other job being multi-tasked while the most cataclysmic news of your life is being delivered. So in Wickets when Fefu is talking about ominous physical pains while rolling moist towelettes for passengers, it feels real. Fefu and Christina sort out a fight while keeping their smiles on and offering passengers water. When Paula is proffering a garbage bag down the aisle while sharing thoughts she's held bottled in for years about privilege and social responsibility, it works. It's interesting to see the women have to manage discussing their personal business in a public setting on the plane. It made me think about how it's somehow okay for women to share with each other their ideas and experiences but it's still often in bad taste to broadcast those things publicly. All of this texture really makes Fornes's dialogue soar. A clear standout in handling the text in this regard is Lee Eddy as Fefu, whose strong performance sets the bar.
However, somewhere in the air between New York and Paris, the feminist bite of the play got a little dulled from the original. This is no fault of the staging nor performances in the scenes that deal with women feeling subjugated. It's just that the whole Wickets experience is such a carnival of crazy activity that those ideas and lines are not as prominent as they are when the whole play is a little flatter and takes place up on a stage, in front of you, in 1935. Also, I think in the '70s when women's liberation was in its heyday, the audience was intended to relate to these pioneering women in the '30s in a very present way. But in Wickets the filter of the '70s stew-world unexpectedly does the opposite. Instead of thinking "Hey, I feel that way too", it's more like "Wasn't that adorable when women dressed and behaved like that back then?" This may also be due to the fact that the performers and designers have so much FUN with the '70s period work, repression doesn't really emerge as a theme. But this is also the most flat-out entertaining version of Fefu you are ever likely to see and I think the tradeoff is well worth it for the experience.
Another thing that really works about this play is the quirky weirdness of it. In classic Fornes form, Fefu and Her Friends involves some very strange images, lines, and ideas. The character of Julia, for example, is mystically paralyzed and hallucinates that she has been punished for her sins (sins like being too smart and not learning to smile enough). Fefu has a shocking game with her husband where she shoots an unloaded gun at him and he has to fall wherever he is. People talk about fungus under rocks, feral cats defecating, and genital awareness. The strangeness of all this is heightened exuberantly in the contained airplane setting. Masterminds Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers take the slightly-unhinged-from-realism style a few steps farther in a number of instances, in line with the spirit of the original. As one example they include an Angel character who is one of Julia's persecutors and also represents the pain and distraction Fefu is going through while she tries to do her job.
Perhaps after you see Wickets, you may wonder why creators of feminist theater are so often compelled to give it distance; like there's something we can't say too directly about our own time and place. Or maybe you'll just feel extra-smiley as "Leaving on a Jet Plane" loops and loops around your head. But during the show I guarantee you'll be having too much fun to do anything but follow along, riveted to these fascinating characters, as the action ricochets around the cabin. Wickets is thought-provoking, wonderfully inventive theatre. But the Wicket air terminal at 3LD closes January 25th, so buy your tickets soon because this is a flight you shouldn't miss.