Reviewed by James Karas
Fairview is a very tricky play. It was written by the brilliant Jackie Sibblies Drury and premiered in 2018 in New York and, oh yes, it won the Pulitzer Prize. It is now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto, in a co-production by Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre.
Like all great tricky tales, it starts innocuously and disarms you from any expectations of anything problematic or, well, tricky. When the lights go on, we see a well-appointed dining room and sitting room. Beverly (Ordena Stephens-Thompson), an attractive, well-dressed woman is peeling carrots, dancing and looking at herself in the mirror. A happy scene but she does reprimand her loving husband Dayton (Peter N. Bailey) for watching her without saying anything. She is a bit uptight but they are a loving couple.
Beverley is preparing a fancy dinner for her mother’s birthday and she is in fact frazzled but we enjoy the scene of what looks like a regular comedy. Her know-it-all, bitchy sister Jasmine (Sophia Walker) arrives and her teen daughter Keisha (Chelsea Russell) enters and ruffles some feathers but nothing that a comedy can’t show without raising any suspicions.
Beverley’s brother Tyrone, the lawyer, is held up and will be late. Mamma locks herself in her room and does not come down. Beverley’s tension about the dinner rises to a pitch and she faints. End of the first act of a classic family gathering comedy-drama but your eyebrows should be creeping up your forehead.
|Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Peter N. Bailey, |
Sophia Walker and Chelsea Russell
Second act. We see exactly what we saw in the first act, only no one speaks. We see the entire first actmimed by the actors and we listen to what sounds like a radio talk show. Within minutes, your eyebrows will become your hairline.
Four people participate in the talk show and you know from the start that the topic for discussion is race. The fist question is, if you could, what race would you choose? The race topic is discussed until the mimed first act finishes and then some. The radio talkers may be talking about something serious (they do) but the level of intelligence displayed does not grasp our attention or encourage listening. Dialogue that is peppered with the word “like” without comparing anything and “you know” thrown in regularly, a rich dose of the “f” word and other additives to conversational English, simply pushes your attention to other venues.
By now you are a long way from thinking that this is a family comedy. But there is more to come. Mamma, called Suze (Sascha Cole) comes down the stairs dressed like a queen or some other pretentious creature. The lawyer Tyrone (Colin A. Doyle) comes in, a young man wearing a seriously colourful baseball hat sideways, a chain and looking like anything but a lawyer. He is Jimbo, Keisha’s friend Erica is Mack (Jeff Lillico) and by this time your eyebrows are at the back of your neck and you are not sure where you are.
I will almost stop here but the four voices that you heard on the radio broadcast appear on stage as characters some of whom you may be able to recognize.
No peeking into the playscript if you have it, because you will get into the depth of the play and find some information that you missed during the performance. You will still be puzzled.
The play ends with Keisha addressing the audience directly and asking those who identify as white to go on the stage. The whites in the audience are supposed to make room for the cast members. It goes on for some perplexing minutes and many people from the audience do go on stage and in fact fill the playing area. That is the trick that Drury ends the play with.
As to the ending. you will have to see the play and figure it out for yourselves.
Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury in a production by Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre continues until March 26, 2023 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St, Toronto, Ontario. http://www.canadianstage.com/
James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press