Fefu and Her Friends takes place over the course of a single day in the 1930s. Fefu—a seemingly wealthy woman with a nice home—is hosting seven of her friends to plan a fundraiser for a cause that has something to do with education (the exact cause is never explicitly stated). In Part I, Fefu, Cindy, and Christina wait for everyone else to arrive. As they do so, Fefu tells her friends about her relationship with her husband, Phillip, whom she thinks married her simply to have a “constant reminder of how loathsome women are.” Christina—who has never actually met Fefu before—is shocked by this statement, but Fefu doesn’t mind, insisting that she likes ideas that are “revolting.” When Fefu sees Phillip walking up to the house, she grabs a shotgun and shoots at him. Cindy and Christina are horrified when Phillip falls down, but Fefu assures them they don’t need to worry—this is just a joke she and her husband play. Whenever he walks up to the house, she shoots at him with a blank, and he plays along by falling down. As he gets up and continues across the yard, Fefu says that Phillip has threatened to load the gun with real bullets, but she doesn’t believe him. Her friends are bewildered, but it all makes sense to Fefu, who thinks she might end up legitimately shooting Phillip if she didn’t pretend to.
The other women begin to arrive. One of them is Julia, who recently suffered a terrible accident and is now in a wheelchair. As Fefu shows her to her room, Cindy tells Christina about what happened, since she was there to witness it. Julia and Cindy were out hunting with a man. The man spotted a deer and shot it, and right as the deer fell, Julia did too. As the deer died, Julia seemed to suffer alongside it, even convulsing in the same way as the doomed animal. Cindy thought that the hunter had somehow shot Julia, but this wasn’t the case. Julia’s forehead was bleeding, but only because she had hit her head when she fell, which was perhaps why she was convulsing. She also started raving in a strange way, saying nonsensical things because of some kind of “spinal nerve injury.” These days, Cindy says, Julia still “blanks out” because of a scar on her brain—that is, she suffers from petit mal seizures.
Emma, one of Cindy and Christina’s charismatic and theatrical friends, arrives, interrupting their conversation about Julia’s “hallucinations” (which involve Julia talking about how she is “persecuted” and tortured). Sue also comes into the room, along with Paula, who compliments Fefu on a “Flossie Crit” (a dated term for feminist criticism) speech she recently gave somewhere. As everyone settles in, Julia picks up the gun and examines it. She then becomes “absent,” staring off as Cindy and Cynthia wonder what to do. She remarks that the gun is filled with a “blank,” and then she cryptically says, “She’s hurting herself.” Then, seeming to return to her senses, she decides to go lie down right as Cecilia—Fefu’s final guest—arrives.
In Part II, the play divides into four separate scenes, all of which take place in different rooms at the same time. The audience is broken into four groups and goes from room to room, watching each scene before rotating to the next one. In one scene, Fefu and Emma bring vegetables up from a root cellar as Emma tells Fefu that she thinks about genitals quite frequently—everyone has them, she says, but they act like they don’t. She then sets forth a theory that people go to heaven based on how well they have sex. Fefu likes this idea, but she ends up talking about how she’s in a constant state of pain, though this pain isn’t physical—it’s just that life feels unbearably difficult.
In another scene, Christina tells Cindy about how confusing she finds Fefu. Christina is, in some ways, a conformist, so she feels somewhat threatened by Fefu’s nonconformism. Cindy then tells her about a dream she had that ended in her being chased by a strange young man. Meanwhile, in yet another scene, Julia lies in a bedroom by herself and narrates a “hallucination” she’s having. She says that a mysterious group of “judges” have beat and tortured her. When she told them that “the stinking parts of the body are the important ones”—that is, “the genitals, the anus, the mouth, the armpit”—one of the judges told her that these body parts have to be “kept clean and put away.” Later, she insists that these judges are responsible for what happened when the hunter shot the deer. The bullet really hit her, she says, not the deer, but she ended up living while the deer died, at which point the judges told her not to tell anyone what happened. As if speaking directly to these judges, Julia asks why they have to kill Fefu, but they seem to reply by saying, “Not kill, cure. Cure her.” Julia’s “hallucination” stops when Sue brings her some soup.
In the fourth scene of Part II, Paula and Cecilia talk about a romantic relationship they used to have with each other. They haven’t spoken in a while, and it’s clear that Paula wants to reconnect, though she insists that she’s not trying to win Cecilia back—she just wants to express how much she has missed her and how “abandoned” she felt after Cecilia stopped contacting her. A bit more reluctant than Paula, Cecilia eventually says she has missed Paula, too.
In Part III, the women talk about the value of community while lounging in the living room. Julia acknowledges that her “hallucinations are madness,” but she still often yearns to be around other people who experience the same thing as she does. She has even tried to get admitted to a psychiatric ward, but doctors never send her to one, so she feels isolated amongst people who don’t understand what it’s like to “hallucinate.” As this conversation wraps up, the women do a practice run of what each person will talk about at the fundraiser. Emma is the most prepared and theatrically gifted, delivering a speech taken from a book by a female educator and actor named Emma Sheridan Fry. After this rehearsal, the friends have a water fight, with many of them trying to dump water from their glasses on the others. When this dies down, Fefu briefly “hallucinates” and sees Julia walking into the living room, but when she later talks to Julia and encourages her to stand from her wheelchair, Julia says she can’t. During this conversation, Julia asks about Fefu’s relationship with Phillip. Fefu says things aren’t going well but that she can’t leave Phillip because she has come to depend on him. She then tries to get Julia to stand, accusing her of having “given up” and trying to jostle her out of the chair, though she stops and apologizes when Christina walks in.
Having apologized, Fefu grabs the gun and claims she’s going to clean it. Once she’s out of the room, Julia nervously asks Cecilia—who has also entered the room—if she (Julia) told Fefu anything, but Cecilia doesn’t know what she’s talking about and asks what, exactly, Julia would have told Fefu. In response, Julia just says, “She knew.” Then, from outside, comes the sound of a gunshot. Christina and Cecilia go to see what happened, but Julia just touches her forehead. Her hand comes away bloody, and then her head drops backward. Fefu rushes in with a dead rabbit, exclaiming that she shot and killed it. When she sees Julia slumped in her wheelchair, Fefu slowly walks to her, at which point the rest of the women enter and all stand around her, too.