Pardon me while I go on a bit of a stream of consciousness journey as I try to work through some themes and concepts in Maria Irene Fornes’ Fefu and her Friends. I can’t promise that my discussion will be all too clear or connected, but it will be thoughtful.
I am very interested in synthesizing this play with Foucault’s History of Sexuality, mostly because I happened to be lucky enough to read it for class, but also because it just makes sense. First, let me point out, in the way of Foucault, how we are viewing this play in a certain light because of where we are in time and in society. In other words, we are reading into this play elements that may or may not actually exist (though, to be fair, if we weren’t, would reading this play be any fun?). It’s sort of like this: Professor Perez briefly mentioned in class how his Intro to AES class read this play and was completely unaware that it had lesbians in it. Then when we read it, without fail everyone in our class was like “Okay, cool, it’s a play about lesbians.” Several of our classmates even noted how the entire play can be seen as the 8 women flirting the entire time–a reading that isn’t entirely that far off, based on this productive I found on YouTube:
Also, for your consideration, here is the scene in the kitchen with Paula and Cecilia:
There are actually a few things to note about this production: 1) that this scene, in my opinion, is fairly flirtatious, if not pretty sexualized. Which is odd, because as I was reading the play, this particular scene did not stick out to me as one that was overtly sexual, but hey, different directors can do what they want with a play. And 2) I found it really interesting that they chose to dress Cecilia in a suit and tie. Mostly because, as written, the play takes play in 1935 and such blatant cross dressing was not commonly accepted, especially in what we are going to assume is a fairly bourgeois household. However–and we discussed this in depth in class–this play does not exist in a vacuum. Fornes wrote it from a feminist perspective in the 70s, and while there is no specific mention as to what, exactly, Cecilia wears in the play, what does it mean that this interpretation puts her in a suit? Not only that, but either the actress naturally has a fairly masculine voice, or she tones it down for the role; either way, this is a fairly clear queering of an already fairly queer text.
So what? What are we left with to unpack here? Back to Foucault (yes, I have direction here!), I want to analyze what this production does to the play. Foucault argues that when we as a society view the past (specifically, this period, as it so happens) as “sexually repressed”, we take on an assumption that we can then become sexually liberated in the future. Or, in other words, because the past is so miserable and unfair and obsessed with repressing anything overtly “perverse,” we focus all of our energy on making the future better, that we in turn have become a sexually repressed society ourselves.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think this is 100% accurate, especially in our country right now. There is a HUGE campaign against teaching sex education in public schools (because abstinence works all the time, right?) because people are afraid to talk about sex. On one side of the coin, we acknowledge (or at least, according to Foucault, incorrectly acknowledge) that the past was this time of sexual repression, but what are we in now? We are just as “hush hush” about things now as we assume society was in the past. Nothing much in the way of our sexual discourse has changed; what has changed (barely, I would argue) is our acceptance regarding the sexually “perverse,” as Foucault has identified for the sake of argument. We acknowledge them now and (the progressive individuals in society) are trying to rectify the problem; that is, we are trying to bring the discourse back into light and no longer repress sexuality.
Then, with regards to this particular production of Fefu and her Friends, it is very clear that the director and crew have gone to lengths to point out “Hey! We’re progressive! We have a lesbian in the play!”, something that I don’t think necessarily needed any highlighting. Please please please don’t read into my reading here as negative: I mean, Cecilia could’ve been wearing a suit for all I know. I don’t know Fornes’ intentions with the play, and it never is specified exactly. I just think it should be noted that that’s the particular choice they went with, as if to shove it in the audience’s face.
That being said, even I feel subject to the downfall that Foucault suggests in that yes, I am reading into this play what I know, what I have grown up around, and what I have learned from my very brief exposure in an ENG/AES course. I know that I myself went into reading this play with the expectation that it was going to be about lesbians in some degree; Cecilia and Paula are very clearly former lovers, however as a class we have read into the play that Fefu and Cindy are currently having an affair, and that perhaps Fefu and Julia once had a fling. Things like that that we are projecting into the play, based on a view that as a society we need to solve the “assumed” sexual repression, something that we are again assuming Fornes has written into the text. But, it should be noted, we shouldn’t claim to be able to read one way or the other, neither should we make a definitive claim with regards to the sexuality of any character as being the end-all decision, for that would diminish the importance of this play as a whole, something that I think society does enough of to various works of literature already.