Fairview, the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Jackie Sibblies Drury, has opened at Berkeley Street Theatre. A collaboration between Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre, Fairview is a play unlike many others in its intensity and originality and examination of the effects of the white gaze on Black people. Fairview is a difficult play to watch in the latter acts, and more difficult to review since I do not want to reveal the disturbing and uncomfortable action on stage for fear of reducing its power and element of surprise.
Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy, the first Act introduces us to upper middle class Black couple Beverly and her husband, Dayton, who are preparing a celebratory dinner for her mother’s birthday. Perfectionist Beverly wants to ensure everything is just right, even getting into an argument with her husband about root vegetables. Beverly’s sister Jasmine arrives and she and her sister begin arguing about things that many sisters argue about e.g. “You don’t listen to me,” “You always want attention,” etc. Beverly and Dayton’s college-bound daughter Keisha arrives home and professes she would like to take a gap year. On top of that, Beverly receives a phone call from her brother Tyrone saying he won’t be able to attend the party. Things get heated between all four family members and Beverly’s stress level rises to the point that she faints.
That’s about all I can share without giving away the plot. What I will say is that Fairview pulls no punches in demonstrating, embarrassingly so, the way in which white society projects their prejudices upon Black people. The action and characters in the play are exaggerated to drive the point home for the audience, which on the day I attended was at least 95% white.
The theme of being observed is creatively symbolized throughout the play. For example, Beverly and Jasmine both primp in front of the mirror and the family members frequently dance (as if being watched) while carrying out household tasks. Set Designer Jawon Kang’s living room features a hugely oversized window, which further gives the impression that the family is on display.
Kang’s set, which features ironically and forebodingly an all-white decor, also reflects the wealth of the family through potted plants, an open staircase, and modern artwork and furnishings.
Ordena Stephens-Thompson (Beverly) brings a glorious mix of power and playfulness to her role and is completely credible while displaying anxiety about the dinner going smoothly.
Sophia Walker commands the stage and is amusingly disruptive as Jasmine.
Chelsea Russell as Keisha is captivating and vivacious and in Act 3, she delivers her monologue with confidence and power. We hear a snippet of her glorious singing voice and I would love to hear more. A small portion of her dialogue in Act 3 needs to be delivered with more volume.
Colin A. Doyle is appropriately over the top and entertaining as Tyrone.
Rachel Forbes’s costumes are dazzlingly colourful, bold and stylish, underscoring a common stereotype about Black women.
Logan Cracknell’s dramatic and colourful lighting is particularly effective in the third act when used to focus on individual characters.
As the play was nearing its end, the audience discomfort was palpable and I will share that I “participated” (and those of you who have seen the play will know what I’m referring to) and I know that I will never forget this moment for the rest of my life.
Fairview at Berkeley Street Theatre is being performed until March 26, 2023. The run time is approximately 95 minutes. Don’t miss this chance to witness this thought-changing work.
Berkeley Street Theatre is located at 26 Berkeley Street. Tickets are $89, $79, $69, $49 and $29. Purchase tickets at the Box Office or online.
You may be interested in reading “Prodigal at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto: REVIEW“.