Young Vic Theatre Winter 2019-2020
Jackie Sibblies Drury's Pulitzer Prize play deals with a serious subject – perhaps the most serious subject in the American experience – with striking originality of both thought and theatrical presentation.
If it ultimately disappoints
it is because, having explored the issue in such fresh ways, it settles
for a glib and unoriginal conclusion.
Fairview is built on a number
of theatrical surprises and twists that make it difficult to describe
without saying too much. We meet what is apparently an upscale
African-American family preparing for a birthday dinner.
Only gradually in the opening
scene might we catch a sense of trying too hard, of working at manners and
modes that are not instinctive, of – dare I say it? - black people trying
to act white.
Then, in a theatrical coup that I won't describe, our attention shifts to some white people imagining admiringly what it would be like to be black.
There are hints of John
Guare's Six Degrees Of Separation here, in the image of people working
hard to achieve something that probably isn't worth the achieving – or,
more ironically, of two groups each yearning for precisely what the other
is trying to escape.
But the play's real insight
is even more complex and subtly ironic. The imitation white-middle-class
black family is following a model that doesn't actually exist, but is
their imaginary image of white America, just as the whites are drawn to a
soulful hip-hop blackness that is entirely their invention.
How can the races interact,
asks the play, if they persist in imposing imaginary identities on each
other that make them unable to see the reality?
So much so good, and I have
to repeat that I have left out some of the ideas and staging effects that
contribute to the play's power.
Playwright Jackie Sibblies
Drury, director Nadia Latif and a wholly admirable cast guide us through
both the disorientations and the reorganisations of our thinking so we
experience the real excitement of learning something and looking at it in
And then – and again here I
have to be vague – the playwright pulls out another twist on our
perceptions, but one that doesn't quite work.
In effect we are brought all
this way, through all this enlightenment, to be told it won't do us any
good and we shouldn't bother trying to do anything with it. It's an ending
that's too self-congratulatorily clever, too glib, and too dark and
dismissive to be satisfying.
It is not just that the
ending is downbeat – a playwright has every right to say there is no hope
– but that it is so much less original, perception-altering and involving
than the rest of the play.
And so you may walk away from Fairview with as much disappointment at an opportunity missed as excitement at what went on before.
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Review - Fairview - Young Vic Theatre 2019