Theater review by Adam Feldman
[Note: This is a review of the 2018 production of Fairview at Soho Rep. The production returns for an encore run at Theatre for a New Audience in June, 2019, with the entire original cast. In April, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.]
At several points in the first act of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s metatheatrical semicomedy Fairview, the upper-middle-class black women onstage look straight out into the audience and check their makeup. The fourth wall here is a one-way mirror, like the ones in police stations or psych-test observation rooms: The characters can see themselves, but they can’t see us watching them and sizing up their dynamics. As “Family Affair” plays on the stereo, Beverly (Heather Alicia Simms) nervously prepares a big dinner—it’s her mama’s birthday, and everything must be perfect!—for her jocular husband (Charles Browning), her undermining sister (the impeccable Roslyn Ruff) and her sporty daughter (Mayaa Boateng). It’s all quite familiar until, suddenly, it’s not.
A half hour into the play, Drury (We Are Proud to Present…) switches its frame: As the opening scene replays in silence, we hear the voices of four white people who are chattering about it and over it, as though they were watching a reality TV show. What they are gabbing about is race—including which race they would like to be if they weren’t white—and they inevitably deal in stereotypes. (They are also stereotypes themselves: the rich liberal, the overtalking dude, the campy gay guy, the sophisticated European.) As in Christopher Durang’s Betty’s Summer Vacation, these outside observers can’t stay on the fringe forever, and the black story we started with goes hilariously off the rails. There are slight longueurs in Sarah Benson’s Soho Rep production—the provoking of mild impatience may be intentional—but its bolder strokes are unforgettable. Fairview argues for the possibility of people of color representing themselves, onstage and off, without an overlay of white perception, judgment and narrative. It gently body-checks privilege.
Soho Rep (Off Broadway). By Jackie Sibblies Drury. Directed by Sarah Benson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.