Fairview forces white audiences to think black.

(l to r) Natalie Venetia Belcon (Beverly), Monique Robinson (Keisha), and Charles Browning (Dayton) in Berkeley Rep’s production of Fairview. Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

FAIRVIEW: Comedy/Drama by Jackie Sibblies Drury. Directed by Sarah Benson. Berkeley Rep, Peet’s Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA 94704.  (510) 647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org.  October 11 –  November 4, 2018

Fairview forces white audiences to think black.

There is a high probability you will be confused when you leave Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre where Fairview, a truly avant-garde play is literally and actually tearing up the stage and your perception about race. A co-commission by Berkeley Rep and Soho Rep., the play was developed as part of The Ground Floor: Berkeley Rep’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work. It is a three act play performed without intermission that forces you to think about being observed especially if you are black.

It all starts out on a beige/white sunken living room set that could have been imported from dozens of TV family dramas. The stage floor is framed by a 1 ½ foot high enclosure creating a distinct separation from the audience.  The fourth wall becomes a mirror that allows the author to suggest personal traits of her characters as each preens facing the audience. It is a clever devise emphasizing a major theme that we are always being watched. In this play that audience is predominately white and plays an integral part in the authors theme.

The home belongs to an upper-middle class black family without mention of a last name in the program.  It is grandma’s birthday and older daughter Beverley (Natalie Venetia Belcon ) is attempting to have the perfect party. Her fun loving husband Dayton (Charles Browning) is of little help and may have ruined a root vegetable casserole. An unnamed non-conformist  brother may not arrive.

Jasmine (Chantal Jean-Pierre) a sexy free-spirited younger sister dressed to the nines arrives introducing the theme of sibling rivalry.  The presence of teenage daughter Keisha (Monique Robinson) emphasizes the concept of a “generation gap” and she has invited Mack (Jed Resnick) a member of her basketball team.

With the first act characters all in place the dinner is served and you prepare yourself for the continuation of the charming family drama. But, it is not to be. The second act is a humdinger as concepts of race take precedence. With the stage in semidarkness the actors pantomime their entire actions from the opening scene while white voices of the unseen audience are broadcast through off-stage speakers giving them a surrealistic patina. Those cutting observations come at a fast and furious pace in vernacular dialog.  It is what you expect from white racists and not from an educated theater audience.

As the pantomime of the first act ends so do the comments from the speakers abruptly end and a surrealistic act three unfolds with lights up on the set. The dining room table is overflowing with every conceivable type of party fare including a whole roast pig.  Two white Grandmas (Brooke Bloom and Natalia Payne) come down the stairs to offer Keisha advice. Why the author introduces a macho white male Jimbo (Luke Robertson) and a white drag queen (Jed Resnick) is unfathomable as all partake of destruction of the props and set and white members of the audience are asked to come on stage and change from the observers to the observed.

A codicil with Keisha leaving the stage to give hopeful platitudes that things will change does not have the impact the author and director expect because she walks in only one part of the audience and her voice is muffled. Giving her a hand held mike should be added

Every black member of the cast is superb and gives distinctive performances. The cacophony of the third act does not allow reasonable comment about the remainder of the cast. The intricate direction by Sarah Benson keeps the play in balance even when the stage is falling apart.

Running time is 95 minutes without intermission earning a tentative should see rating.

CAST: Natalie Venetia Belcon (Beverly), Brooke Bloom (Suze), Charles Browning (Dayton), Chantal Jean-Pierre (Jasmine), Natalia Payne (Bets), Jed Resnick (Mack), Luke Robertson (Jimbo), Monique A. Robinson (Keisha).

CREATIVE TEAM: Sarah Benson (Director), Raja Feather Kelly (Choreographer), Garrett Allen (associate director), Mimi Lien (scenic designer), Montana Levi Blanco (costume designer), Amith Chandrashaker (lighting designer), and Mikaal Sulaiman (sound designer).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.