Pulitzer Prize Winning Play Fairview Challenges The Audience's Preconceptions
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Jackie Sibblies Drury's Fairview caused a bit of a stir in America, with two sell-out runs in New York as well as winning the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It's a very difficult play to write about without giving away major twists that audiences deserve to experience as unsettling surprises. The first act is a conventional domestic comedy, but after the drawn curtains re-open it shifts into something very different and more disturbing, breaking the fourth wall in spectacular style.
It begins like a middle-class African American family sitcom. The Frasiers have gathered to celebrate Grandma's birthday. Beverly (Nicola Hughes) is anxiously preparing dinner, giving instructions to her adoring husband Dayton (Rhashan Stone), while her interfering sister Jasmine (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) supports her daughter Keisha (Donna Banya) in wanting to defer college. Meanwhile, brother Tyrone has missed his flight, Grandma has locked herself in the bathroom — and the cake has burnt! With a few song and dance routines, it's all mildly amusing but a bit dull.
But there are signs that not all as it seems in Nadia Latif's carefully modulated production. There is something self-consciously artificial about the tasteful but bland décor of the spacious house (designed by Tom Scutt). The soul music on the sound system occasionally seems to be distorted by outside interference, while the spotlit Keisha starts addressing the audience directly. In Act Two, the narrative is hijacked, while Act Three will divide audiences.
Fairview's meta-theatricality challenges our assumptions about an evening in the theatre. More importantly its deconstruction of identity politics confronts (especially white) audience preconceptions and prejudices about racial stereotypes as well as cultural appropriation. However, unfortunately, although the play provokes much discussion, the way this is done is far from subtle and the message seems muddled.
This is arguably more of a social experiment than a satisfying work of drama — though it may well hit the mark more in the States. A play perhaps more interesting to talk about with others who have seen it than enjoyable to watch itself — but then if you haven't seen it you can't talk about it...
Fairview, Young Vic, 66 The Cut, SE1 8LZ, £10-£40. Until 18 January 2020
Last Updated 06 December 2019