BWW Review: FAIRVIEW at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Jackie Sibblies Drury's play, Fairview, currently playing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, is a show that desperately calls for conversation. It's no wonder, then, that each performance is immediately followed by community discussions led by Build With, a DC-based anti-racist training, facilitation, and consulting practice focused on people, power, and partnership. While I wasn't able to stay for this event following Saturday night's performance, it is an important step in ensuring this work's complicated themes are digested in a clear way. Fairview is one of the most conceptual shows in recent memory. Not every idea can be fully explored in this production, which has a tight 100-minute run time that director Stevie Walker-Webb keeps clipping at a good pace. Nevertheless, Fairview is a necessary piece for anyone looking to dive deeper into discussions of race and identity in America.
Much of the impact of Fairview depends on its plot remaining a mystery. In the broadest terms possible, the play begins as a standard family drama. Each member of the Frasier family is preparing for a birthday dinner for their matriarch. Beverly (Nikki Crawford) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown while preparing the meal which "has to go perfectly" for some unnamed reason; Dayton (Samuel Ray Gates) is attempting to keep his wife on an even keel despite her ever-worsening stress levels; Jasmine (Shanon Dorsey) provides some necessary comic relief as the fun, yet slightly antagonistic, aunt who has a strong relationship with the youngest Frasier, Keisha, despite a more strained one with her sister and mother; and Keisha (Chinna Palmer) is trying to find a way to tell her mother that she wants to take a gap year before beginning college. If it all seems standard, the show no longer feels that way after about thirty minutes.
All of the performers skillfully embody their character's (purposefully) stereotypical personalities. Ms. Palmer comes off a little forced during the first third of the play, but once action begins to pick up she settles into an increasingly complex performance. With one of the longest monologues I've seen rounding out Fairview, Chinna is able to distill many of this production's heady themes into an incredibly effective finale that leaves you eager to discuss the meaning of Fairview. Additional members of the ensemble (Cody Nickell, Kimberly Gilbert, Christopher Dinolfo, and Laura C. Harris) all deliver strong performances as well, even when the specific purposes and motivations for their characters are hard to follow.
The technical team on this production is top-notch. Misha Kachman's set is delightful and evocative of classic television comedies like The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show. Some of the complexities in the set aren't able to be appreciated until the play's latter half, which reveals additional reasons why this home can, at times, feel like it is almost too perfect. There is a lot of great work done by Colin K Bills when it comes to Fairview's lighting design. A few moments of silhouetted action, however, don't appear quite as polished as other elements of the production and can often become distracting rather than interesting. Roc Lee's sound design is a particular treat considering how much music and microphone use there was throughout the evening.
About a half hour into the production, the evening becomes much more conceptual, and challenges the audience to engage in this work, sometimes in very literal ways. Some parallelism that is employed throughout Drury's script doesn't really land effectively due to a lack of true synchronization. Additionally, a few topics feel shoe-horned into the plot as a means of sparking discussion rather than propelling the show's narrative. But that might actually be the point.
If it hasn't been made clear yet, Fairview is nearly impossible to distill into a simple review. Even the act of reading this play wouldn't be able to capture the power contained on Woolly's stage. If audiences engage in the way that Drury's script hopes they do, however, the impact of this show has the potential to reach far beyond Woolly's redesigned lobby and into DC and beyond.
Fairview runs approximately 100 minutes with no intermission and plays through October 6 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. For tickets and information, click here.
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for The Shakespeare Theatre Company as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
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