Review: ‘FUKT’ reminds us that it’s never too late to redefine ourselves
Emma Goldman-Sherman’s ‘FUKT’ is an uplifting tale that shows how childhood trauma doesn’t ultimately define us.
Nov 29, 2022
Disclaimer: This article mentions abuse and sexual assault.
As I walked into The Tank’s black box theater, I came across a vivid set. A plethora of old letters and photos surrounded purple neon lights spelling out FUKT. Underneath the display sat a long bench draped in a black cloth, with objects and papers placed on top, each defining important moments from the play frozen in time. Taking in the set, I realized that walking into the room also meant walking into the writer’s mind. As the crowd settled in, playwright Emma Goldman-Sherman offered everyone in the audience a pencil, saying “it’ll all make sense later.”
Written by Goldman-Sherman and directed by Janice L. Goldberg, “FUKT” is an uplifting dark comedy about how and why Emma Goldman (Bridget Ann White), an accomplished middle-aged Jewish woman, changed her name as she grew up. The play begins with Emma briefly fumbling around in the darkness, trying to answer a question she sets for herself: “If we rename ourselves, can we be born again?”
Previously known as Bobbie (Eileen Sugameli) and Barbara (Julia Mack), the main character has renamed herself again: Emma. She chose the name on a date, when her current husband Scott exclaimed she resembled the anarchist, Emma Goldman. Barbara is elated at the comparison. While Emma feels the same, she ponders as to how a male date naming you like one of his pets could be perceived as patriarchal.
I thought that this internal conflict was interesting, as it was something that isn’t always shown with women. If you like the situation, you’re considered a pick-me — a person who tries to gain attention at the expense of putting down other feminine people or things. If you hate it, you’re unappreciative of your partner, who chose to spend time with you, and yet you decide you don’t like a cool name they chose?
But, if you’re both? Good luck. It isn’t every day a woman dares to have conflicting feelings about something as seemingly simple as being named by their partner.
Bobbie, Emma’s 20-year-old self, carries the heartache of being abused, sexually assaulted and silenced by her father throughout her childhood. Barbara, her 30-year-old self, carries the baggage of trying to forget her childhood trauma while dealing with her struggles of being an adult.
While they individually tell their stories, they prove together that it’s never too late to self-reflect. Through self-reflection, 40-year-old Emma embarks on a journey of healing and working toward acceptance for both her sake and her family’s.
After giving birth to her son, the main character realizes the magnitude of what she went through as a child. She doesn’t want to ignore her childhood trauma any longer, and instead wants to be the loving and protective parent she lacked growing up.
Bobbie, Barbara and Emma’s contrasting wardrobes serve as visual representations of their differing views on life. Bobbie’s flowing purple dress symbolizes a typical adolescent youthful, yet stressed outlook on life. Her young age causes her to question her older selves’ decisions and even clash with Barbara in particular. Barbara appears in a more risque outfit, signifying her willingness to embrace her sexy given name. Emma dons a darker business-casual suit, reflecting her older age and wiser mindset of the trio.
When Bobbie and Emma recount their memories of the past, Barbara is often seen covering her ears and blocking out the recollections, which further feeds into her and Bobbie’s disconnect. Though Emma has had her fair share of arguments, she more often acts as the peacemaker of the group. This also does a good job of explaining how one person can have two different perspectives on the same event over time.
At the end of the play, Emma reveals that she had killed her father. His state in the hospital as he neared death — as well as the pain he brought her — was just too much for her and she decided to pull the plug.
Deciding that Bobbie and Barbara’s antics were wearing her out, she abruptly kills them too. However, Emma quickly realizes that her past selves cannot be erased that easily. They come back to haunt her as zombies, questioning if she could really do the hard task of accepting them.
Perhaps, Bobbie and Barbara come back as zombies to highlight Emma’s emotions toward her past selves — ugly beings who are frightened as much as frightening and cannot be killed off. They were once people poisoned by others’ harsh actions, but with a cure like acceptance, they can become whole once again. Accepting them would mean having to acknowledge the guilt and shame that was embedded in her by her father.
In the end, Emma has the fortitude to accept them. Recalling the previous lessons she learned in therapy, she embraces herself using the butterfly hug coping mechanism. Although it takes a few moments, Bobbie and Barbara eventually turn back to their normal forms, signifying their own self-acceptance.
As the play closes out with Emma, Barbara and Bobbie all finding their lights, they sing “It Is Well with My Soul,” a song courtesy of Bobbie, who now feels comfortable with the childlike self that she was denied. I loved this act of reclamation from the trio, as it shows that you can reclaim your story in any way you want, even with a seemingly silly song that you wrote in your youth.
“I’ve done it now. I’ve said the words out loud, and now the story’s mine.”
The sexist and patriarchal societal narratives Emma and her past selves discussed allowed me to reflect how our stories as women are often ignored or silenced. We need to tell our stories, because if not now, then when?
If not us, then who will?
Contact Sydni Johnson at [email protected]