Theater review by Raven Snook
Those who know Lynn Nottage only from her two plays that won Pulitzer Prizes—Ruined, about the plight of women in the war-torn Congo, and Sweat, about striking Rust Belt factory workers—may be surprised at the frequent and hearty laughs in Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine. On the surface, at least, Nottage’s 2004 satire of NYC's black bourgeoisie is a delectable treat. But it leaves a serious aftertaste.
Undine Barnes Calles (the effervescent Cherise Boothe) seems to have it all: a hip PR firm, a hot Argentine hubby, a designer wardrobe and an imperious attitude. But when everything is suddenly taken away and she finds herself pregnant, she's forced to return to the blue-collar family she disowned 14 years earlier. While Undine's downwardly-mobile journey takes a fairly predictable moral path, the many characters who help her become a better person are a hilarious assortment of stereotypes that subvert expectations. Her brother (Marcus Callendar) is an Iraq War veteran who is writing an epic about Br'er Rabbit. Her security-guard father (J. Bernard Calloway) reads The Economist. Her childhood Double Dutch partner (MaYaa Boateng) now works in finance. The flipping of expectations works the other way, too: Undine’s sweet old granny (Heather Alicia Simms) has a wicked taste for heroin.
Lileana Blain-Cruz's whirlwind staging of Fabulation at the Signature puts humor first, helped by a versatile supporting cast of seven with a knack for sketching broad new identities at the drop of a wig. But as the play goes on, Undine and the audience start to see how racial and economic inequality are reinforced by ingrained personal prejudices. On paper, she is a statistic: an unemployed, unwed, African-American mother-to-be. But that's a reductive perspective—for her and for all the addicts and arrestees and strivers she encounters in her new-old life. You may be cackling too loudly to take it all in as it unfolds but, like a good fable, the play has a message that lingers past its scrappily-ever-after finale.
Pershing Square Signature Center (Off Broadway). By Lynn Nottage. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.