Despite its high praise as a theatrical work, the title “BFE” is one that not many people would recognize. Even after deciphering the acronym, which stands for Bum Fuck Egypt, it’s still hard to say exactly what to expect from this rather ambiguous show.
“BFE” is a play written by Julia Cho that focuses on Panny, a young 14-year-old Korean American girl, played by Connie Li, who struggles with her physical insecurities. Panny’s dysfunctional family, including her vain and beauty obsessed mother Isabel, played by Vivian Lee-Boulton, and her geek uncle Lefty, played by Dave Kim, don’t offer her much guidance.
This play is one of the few multicultural works written by a woman to appear on lists of highly praised theatrical works. “BFE” share bylines with the like of “Hamlet” and “Streetcar Named Desire,” and it is rightly so.
The play devolves into multiple storylines that seek to show the deep insecurities of each character while also showing their journey into a more intense self-awareness. Panny’s own struggles come to a head as a string of blonde hair and blue eyed girls in her hometown begin to disappear.
To be frank, this play really had it all. It had moments that were filled with laughter and joy and then immediately followed by sympathy and pity. Moments of annoyance at ignorance were melted into ones of deep personal reflection at not only ourselves but at the world around us.
While the script itself is cleverly written, the writing is truly only as good as the actors who make it come alive. The cast of the University of Georgia’s “BFE” is in one word: compelling. There was absolutely no room for weak links in this cast. The energy and presence of each actor was matched by every other until the stage was painted with passion and vulnerability.
One notable stand out was David Kim who seemed to be right at home in his debut on the UGA stage. The devotion to each character was at times so good that you really couldn’t pick out who was doing the best job, even if you had to.
The overall set, lighting, sound and costume designs were fairly simple but were able to create a sense of familiarity and comfortability for the audience, without explicitly establishing a time period. These elements also allowed for the true dialogue and characters of the play to shine through without feeling too forced or showy.
Perhaps at its core, the reason that “BFE” is so gripping is because it hits home. We all know what it feels like to be insecure about ourselves — to wonder if someone thinks we’re pretty enough, or likes the same things as us, or will truly like us once they really get to know us. “BFE” is our worst social fears acted out on stage. The audience sympathizes with Panny because at one point we were Panny: lonely, sad and hyper-self-aware.
In an age so filled with messages of self-empowerment and self-love, it's easy to forget the struggle for self-worth faced by so many of us. For eighty minutes, “BFE” offers you a chance to take a seat on the outside and look in. Ultimately, it’s really all about perspective; it’s all about what way you’re facing. And sometimes, when you’re facing things from a new way, they won’t always appear how you would expect.