Getting down and dirty with Fornes’ ‘Mud’
REVIEW— A handful of theater students put on a show called ‘Mud’ this past weekend. The play, written by Cuban-American Maria Irene Fornes, revolves around a man and a woman living in what I assumed to be the 1920s. Mae (Sophia Massidda ’20), a hard-working woman trying to educate herself to achieve a better life, works on a farm maintained by Lloyd (Yair Koas ’19), a man with whom she has an unspecified relationship. Both impoverished, Mae learns to read and do math while the illiterate Lloyd taunts her for it in his state of deteriorating health. While the two are at each other’s throats, Mae brings home Henry, a friend who aids in the purchase of Lloyd’s medication yet has a secret desire to steal Mae and his home away from him. The three violently butt heads in fits of rage and vengeance, as each get in the way of the other’s desires.
When I walked into a room with ten pounds of mud atop a tarp with four differently angled mirrors, I had no idea what I was in for. The room had a single table with two chairs, a radio and minor props. We opened to the two best parts of the play: Massidda’s performance as Mae and Koas’ performance as Lloyd. Their believable dynamic was what immediately pulled me into their dirty world. Massidda demanded all of the attention and sympathy as Koas’ more subtle struggles in the background told the audience that these two could no longer stand each other.
And then in came Henry (played by Zoë Rose ’20), my least favorite character, the soundboard for heavy-handed philosophical nonsense. The thorn to Mae’s rose. The greedy leech that turns out to be more needy, demanding and childish than the illiterate, short-tempered Lloyd. This character added nothing but strain to Mae’s and Lloyd’s relationship — though it is obviously intentional, I found it to be intrusive as a whole to the play. There was no getting rid of this poorly thought-out character that had no redeeming qualities. At least Mae was ambitious. At least Lloyd was a responsible farmer.
It is possible to have likeable antagonists we love to hate: Biff from “Back to the Future,” Malfoy from the “Harry Potter” series and Joffrey from “Game of Thrones.” Henry, as the simply miserable and poorly executed adversary to Lloyd, in no way joins the ranks of any of these characters.
This brings me to some of the play’s problems in execution. There were segments during the play that played music on a speaker disguised as a radio in the back. Almost every time the sound coordinator in the room tried to play a song, the speaker wouldn’t connect, leaving the room in an empty silence, as the actors waited for the audial cue. However, I did not like the use of the speaker to begin with. It was louder than the actors, making it almost impossible to understand them and listen to the song simultaneously.
I did not understand the thematic purpose of radio; all it did was muddle the only good part of the play and confuse the audience’s perception of what time period we were in. Was it the 60s, as indicated by the mentions of the Cuban Missile Crisis on the decorated newspapers, or was it the depression-era 30s that fit most of the narrative and set style? I much preferred the beeping of the disconnected speaker over the loud music that was confusing in purpose and distracting in execution.
My biggest problem, however, was this poor script. I give credit to the hard-working actors who performed their best with this clunky, unrealistic dialogue. The story structure did not have a steady pace, the characters’ motivations were unclear and the metaphorical references to animals Mae was learning about were heavy-handed and repetitive.
I get it — Henry is the hermit crab that wanders in and steals Lloyd’s home and comfort. I am not familiar with Maria Irene Fornes’ body of work, as this is the only script of hers I have been exposed to. But if this writing is what we expect to see in this week’s production of “Fefu and Her Friends,” it very much deters me, though not to say that I won’t see it.
Of course, go support your friends and classmates who work hard producing the play. Their blood, sweat and tears should not go unrecognized. Pay no mind to the script that weighs them down. And yet, I may be wrong.
Upon further research, “Fefu” is Fornes’ most recognized work, so maybe there is hope. I would be cautiously optimistic, for now.