“Fairview,” by Jackie Siblies Drury, currently at the Wilma Theater, is perhaps the most complex play I’ve seen on the stage in years. It begins in what seems to be a very normal African-American household, as they are about to celebrate the birthday of Grandma Suze. Family is coming in from out of town and Beverly, the mother is preparing for the event as she banters with her husband, Dayton. It almost feels like a tv sitcom. But in short order, everything goes awry- from the food to the silverware to getting word that one son might not make it. This is life, and it is no less complicated than real life, but it is not the guts of play.
We, the audience, are constantly trying to figure out precisely what actually is happening. Often, I turned to my friend who came with me to the play and she just shook her head with a baffled expression.
It seems like every character is ambushed by changing facts or a new understanding of the underlying struggles that that they and we all face. But the real victim is the audience, as we are cleverly thrust into chaos. Drury knows that most of the audience is White and she chooses not to give a naturally developing story but a surrealistic one. Things don’t fit. Relationship are not real. “You think you understand us,” she seems to be saying. “I think not.” I agree.
The characters are all interesting. They are fun and make us laugh. And they are multi-racial. How can that be? This an African-American family, isn’t it?
There is one scene, behind windows where White people peer through windows as the Black family sets up for the birthday. Are they trying to understand something? They even ask each other what race they would choose if they could be any race but White. One could not help but wonder what race the members of the audience would choose to be if they had the choice. But the discussion at the window is long and a bit overbearing, even though we can watch in the foreground, the family repeating the dinner table setup of the first scene.
In the third scene, daughter Keisha is clearly disturbed when one of the White women who was at the window, appears as the girl’s grandmother. She is confused. So are we. Then, the son finally arrives. He too is White. What is going on? What does it mean? It is complex. You’ve never seen a play like this. I certainly haven’t… and it’s fascinating.
We are told that at the end of the play (spoiler alert), that the audience will be invited on stage, into the set, to try to connect better with the substance of the characters, the play, and race itself. Many went up there…maybe to get a Fairview.
“Fairview” at The Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, 215-546-7824 www.wilmatheater.org extended thru June 26, 2022