When the play begins we are in television sit-com land: a picture-prefect suburb home in shades of beige (a color difficult to keep clean.) Suburban wife Beverly is hurriedly trying to prepare a birthday dinner for her mother who is resting upstairs. However, no one is helping out. Her husband Dayton keeps disappearing, her acerbic sister Jasmine comes early and only wants to drink the wine she has brought, her daughter Keisha comes home from high school practice only worried about getting her gap year before college, and her brother Tyrone is stuck in the airport and may not arrive in time for his mother’s party.
Will Beverly get the carrots peeled and cooked before the dinner party is to begin? All of this takes place on Mimi Lien’s enviable split level set, seen in Soho Rep.’s picture frame proscenium which suggests a giant TV screen. However, there is something askew about the doorways – characters exit into the kitchen and return from the front door, a theater absurd device or a theatrical maze? It is left to you to decide.
Does this sound familiar? However, Drury’s first reversal is that the family is African American living the white suburban dream seen in 1970’s and 80’s TVland. And then Drury pulls the rug from out from under the audience three or four more times. During the next scene, we hear a conversation between four Caucasian people discussing what race they might like to be other than their own if it could be arranged. The unseen speakers resemble the commentary track on DVDs. And then … However, it would unfair to give away Drury’s startling inventions. While some scenes go on a bit too long – we get the point long before they are over – the play not only will keep you guessing, but she alters the point of view right before your eyes. The suburb may be called “Fairview” but Drury appears to be asking if you can see life from someone else’s point of view. She ultimately makes the audience (the majority probably white) uncomfortable but she is never guilty of a lack of new inventions. She has learned her lessons well from Pirandello to Brecht to the Absurdists who believe in breaking the fourth wall.
Under the direction of Benson, the cast is totally in tune with Drury’s metatheater concepts and eschews the stereotypes being parodied. Heather Alicia Simms has the role of the perfect homemaker taking just so much stress until she passes out. As the sharp-tongued Jasmine who feels she is so much chicer and with-it than her sister, Roslyn Ruff in an uncharacteristic role demonstrates yet another dimension to her acting. Charles Browning as the disappearing husband Dayton has all the charm of the type.
In the most demanding role of the daughter Keisha, MaYaa Boteng who is required to have conversations with herself in the unseen mirror on the fourth wall elevates this to something more than teenage disaffiliation. Hannah Cabell, Natalia Payne, Jed Resnick and Luke Robertson make hilarious late appearances in the play in roles that would be unfair to reveal. Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography is both surprising as it is entertaining.
The production team could not be improved. Lien’s attractive set is part of the play’s satiric appeal while Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes are spot-on. Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting changes with the play’s vicissitudes giving us dream sequences as well as sit-com brightness. The sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman includes such pertinent songs as “It’s A Family Affair,” while the onstage radio comically seems to have a mind of its own. Not everything is perfect in Eden. The family may just be living the American Nightmare, rather than a Dream.
Jackie Sibblies Drury is a unique new voice in the American theater. Her use of metatheater is all her own. Fairview has a great deal to say about race in America and the angle you see things from and she is able to cleverly shift it from scene to scene. However, this new play is a bit too long for its content, with scenes overstaying their welcome. Nevertheless, Drury is a playwright well worth watching.
Fairview (return engagement June 2 – August 11, 2019)
Soho Rep. in association with Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Theatre for a New Audience, Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, in Brooklymn
For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission