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After almost a quarter century, Migdalia Cruz's FUR has its belated New York premiere
Migdalia Cruz, who turns 61 this week, wrote FUR when she was in a very different place in her life. First staged in Chicago in 1995, the absurdist romance about a fur-covered woman has been produced all over the world, including in Turkey and Egypt. After almost a quarter century, it's finally getting its premiere in her hometown of New York City courtesy of Boundless Theatre Company.
"Going into it fresh again I thought, what the hell did I write?" the playwright admits with a hearty laugh. It's an understandable reaction. Inspired by both Beauty and the Beast and Frankenstein and set in a postapocalyptic L.A., FUR centers on a woman named Citrona (Monica Steuer), whose entire body is covered in fur. She's purchased and caged by a pet shop owner named Michael (Danny Bolero), who wants to marry her. But when he hires a young woman named Nena (Ashley Marie Ortiz) to look after Citrona, a complicated love triangle develops.
Cruz, now married, says FUR came out of her romantic yearnings in the '90s, when she was undergoing "a deep personal searching of what is the true nature of love." At the time she recalls wondering, "Will I ever have love, and do I deserve it? And what does it mean if you have it, and how do you keep it, and how do you lose it?"
As a Nuyorican playwright, Cruz was also exploring the experience of being marginalized and fetishized, which is reflected both in Citrona being put on display, and her falling in love with a woman. "It's something I've felt all my life, the strange power of the gaze, the majority gaze, on you all the time -- it's debilitating," says Cruz. "It makes you feel caged, it makes you feel wild, it makes you want to go crazy in meetings and jump across the table and grab someone by the throat and say, 'Don't you see me? And why do you think we are so different?'"
As a designer-led company spearheaded by Latinx artists, Boundless Theatre wanted to mount FUR because of its themes and its design challenges. Executive artistic director María-Cristina Fusté, who's also a busy lighting designer, says Citrona's costume -- a impressive floor-length fur suit created by Sarita Fellows -- is "the centerpiece of the play for us." It wasn't easy to craft. They had to ask themselves: "What kind of hair is it going to be? Is it going to be painted? How much of the actor's skin do we want to show? Do we want it to look real or not?" Fusté recalls, chuckling. "It was a lot."
Typically in the theatre industry, designers working on a show only come in for a handful of meetings and are otherwise left to their own devices. That's not the case at Boundless Theatre, where they're involved in every aspect of the production. "At every rehearsal we have at least one designer present," Fusté says. "The idea is that we shape the space and what we want to say all together at the same time."
In addition to Citrona's furry getup, FUR presented other questions for the team. If it's set in the future, how are the characters dressed? Citrona sings Beatles songs to Nena -- how did she hear that music? "In order to design it, we definitely needed a starting point," says Fusté. The team settled visually on the '80s, with the characters dressed in jeans and listening to LPs on a record player. Fusté figured digital media would have been destroyed when the electrical grid went down. "We feel the '80s survived the apocalypse," she quips.
Watching this new interpretation of her play decades after writing it, Cruz says she was initially surprised that it still held up. But considering the adversity women, people of color and the queer community continues to experience, FUR almost seems prophetic. Remarks Cruz, "I feel a little bit like I was psychic."
Top image: Monica Steuer in FUR. Photos by Al Foote III.