Some plays just hit you in the gut and make you want to sit in your seat for a while, even after the curtain call is over and the lights are up.
That’s the effect “Fairview,” playing at The Laboratory Theater of Florida, had on me.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Jackie Sibblies Drury (playing through Aug. 20) is not only cleverly constructed and written but doesn’t pull any punches.
Many of these punches hit you in the funny bone and make you laugh out loud.
But many hit you in the solar plexus and make you gasp with how painfully true it is.
“Fairview” opens with a TV sitcom about the Frasiers, a Black family. Bev (Tijuanna Clemons) is preparing a big meal for her mother’s birthday and is stressed out, worrying that everything won’t be perfect. Her husband, Dayton (Robert T. Barnet Jr.) is helping … when he’s not getting in the way.
Teen daughter Keisha (Zaria Brown) comes home from school and tries to enlist her aunt, Jasmine (Simone Farrell), to persuade her parents to let her take a gap year before starting college. And Bev and Jasmine scrap and get on each other’s nerves only the way sisters can.
While there’s drama, there’s also lots of love and laughter. Mr. Barnet teases Ms. Clemons the way husbands sometimes do, Ms. Farrell is a walking Drama Queen, and Ms. Brown is, in turns, giddy and thoughtful, mercurial as all teens can be. There’s a particularly warm scene where the two sisters speak of their mother in her heyday and all begin dancing.
When Act II begins, the action starts all over again. But this time, a quartet of white people are watching the show and commenting on it. The tone and focus change radically.
Jimbo (Todd Miller), obnoxious to the hilt, is asking his friends: “If you could be any race, what race would you be?”
Bets (Misha Ritter Polomsky), Suze (Nova Rae) and Mack (Bradley Santos) all have different responses and reactions.
But their answers, and the racist reasoning behind them, even when they protest that they’re not being racist, are uncomfortable to hear.
In their world, normal = white. Regular
Mr. Miller’s character, loud and clueless, mansplains and interrupts the others. He doesn’t converse, he steamrolls. And he’s as sexist as he is racist.
Stereotypes run rampant in their conversation.
The assumption is that the white way of seeing and doing things is the only way, and everyone, no matter what their race or ethnicity, should be held to that standard or interpreted in that manner.
The quartet of white people starts commenting on the action occurring in front of them. And then, in Act III, their comments transform into action, with results that are both comedic and tragic — sometimes simultaneously.
The white people co-op and take over, as if it’s their natural right, creating havoc with their assumptions and sense of entitlement.
“Fairview” is a powerful play that will make you cringe as much as it will make you laugh. Highly unconventional in structure and presentation, it rewards those who pay attention.
Director Brett Marston and assistant director Makayla Davis, along with this superb cast, present a powerful and disturbing night at the theater and do justice to this provocative play.
Scenic design by Gabrielle Lansden presents a two-tiered home in a somewhat Mid-Century Modern style while Alena Stevenson’s inventive costumes reflect the characters’ personalities.
Compelling and dynamic, “Fairview” is unlike anything you’ve seen before onstage. Kudos to Lab Theater for having the guts to produce it.
Go see it, because this is the one everyone’s going to be talking about for a long time. ¦
In the KNOW
When: through Aug. 20
Where: The Laboratory Theater of Florida, 1634 Woodford Ave., Fort Myers
Cost: $30 ($10 for students with valid ID) plus service fees
Information: 239-218-0481 or www.laboratorytheaterflorida.com
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