Canadian Stage teamed up with Obsidian Theatre to present Fairview, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Tawiah M’Carthy. As soon as the play had finished I completely understood how it garnered such high praise; this is the exact kind of theatre we need to be seeing right now. Powerful, poignant, and passionate, Fairview is the epitome of essential theatre viewing.
Fairview was truly an experience; one that audiences were hopefully very open to receiving. Fairview has a lot to say, and rightfully so, and does it in a unique and compelling way. The message of the play becomes crystal clear the further the plot descends into the absurd, and the ending leaves no one untouched by its persuasive discourse.
The initial action of the play feels like an episode of “The Jeffersons” or “Family Matters;” a funny, sweet story about a family trying to throw a birthday party for the matriarch of the family. We find out about the family’s history, issues happening between the characters, and what the unseen matriarch is like. When the chaos has reached a fever pitch, we are suddenly thrust back to the beginning of the play. Except this time, the family we’ve been observing is miming the previous scenes, and we instead are privy to the conversation of what I thought, at first, was a series of disembodied narrators. Ultimately there are four members of this seemingly unseen group who are having a conversation which made the audience audibly sigh and groan. We discover that they are having this conversation while witnessing what’s happening with the family; I finally could see them behind the windows when they would enter or exit. This section eventually descends into the realm of the absurd, with the observers suddenly trying to fill the roles of the unseen friends/family members of the family; with two of them even trying to play the same role! All of this culminating in a huge food fight. The final section is what really packs the punch. Everyone who is white is asked to come up on stage, while the black actors, as well as audience members, stay in the seats. The speech given by character Keisha, the only one who has suspected there’s been something going on the whole time, is moving, hopeful, and a call to action for all of us who suddenly found ourselves on stage. It’s brilliant, truly. It’s a play which I’ve been thinking about since the moment it finished.
The cast of Fairview was a sensational group of artists. Peter N. Bailey, Chelsea Russell, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, and Sophia Walker played the black family who is under observation. They were absolutely phenomenal; I was impressed not just by the initial portion, but then watching them literally do the exact same thing, down to the expressions on their faces, without saying a word. It was beyond what I could have anticipated. Sascha Cole, Colin A. Doyle, Jennifer Dzialoszynski, and Jeff Lillico played the white people observing this family. I loved that they were fully acting out this conversation they were having behind the one-way glass (their movements was how I realized someone was back there!). When they did appear on stage, their energies took the absurdity up a notch and brought the production through its final crescendo.
My hat goes off to Chelsea Russel, who delivers the final monologue of the play; she had to think on her feet, deal with whatever answers the audience gave to her questions, all while she attempted to corral us all out onto the stage. It was no small feat, and I thought she was fantastic. I would love to know what other nights were like; I was at Opening Night and I was shocked at the number of audience members who didn’t move when asked. What I loved was that she called some of them out on it. This final portion gives Fairview an everlasting impression, and I know I certainly feel changed by having seen this amazing production.
Canadian Stage is hosting two virtual talkbacks about Fairview in the coming week: one on April 11th for any and all patrons who would like to attend and one on April 16th and this session is intended to be a space for audience members who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour). If you attended Fairview the link to register should already be in your inbox!
Photo by John Lauener