First, Cleveland Play House will receive the Regional Theatre Tony Award for its excellent work over the last 100 years. This is the oldest continuously running regional theater in the country.
Second, Cleveland Play House has a super hit show in its Outcalt Theatre, the world premiere of Eric Coble's Fairfield. This terrific, funny play is sure to become a hit in regional and community theaters across the county.
A perfect city, Fairfield is the setting for the show. The city is diverse and the races and religions get along well. Fairfield School is a model for all schools. The motto of the school is "Peace. Love. Respect for all." What could go wrong? Nothing, until Laurie Kaminski, a new first-grade teacher, decides to celebrate Black History Month. In truth, the idea isn't bad. But, what this teacher does to Black History Month should not be done to any month, any students, any parents or the nice, new principal, Angela Wadley.
Kaminski seems dressed much like an old-fashioned hippie. Unfortunately, she's a misdirected liberal.
She excitedly announced Black History Month to her class. First, they'll have new spelling wordswords she thinks will honor African Americans. Some of the words on the list are watermelon, booty, chittlins, and fried chicken. She adapts "Roots" to the stage and plans a performance with a first-grade cast. This is enough to make Principal Wadley lose her cool and be requested to appear at the superintendent's office.
It seems Kaminski had her class do an improvisation of a scene between a white slave owner and a black slave (remember, these are first graders). The white slave owner makes a whip from paper clips and attempts to beat his slave and say several inappropriate words to the would-be slave. Of course, this gets the parents involved. Should they move their child to another class? Another school? How can they guarantee their children will get a good education in a safe environment?
Principal Wadley would be an excellent principal. But, she has a vocabulary laced with education-speak jargon: "this is a lesson moment," "let's dialogue," "mutual support structure"the list goes on and on.
The program includes a reference to Ron Wilson, fight choreographer. Why would the nice characters in this story ever need a fight choreographer? Scratch a fallen liberal and you've got a brawling guest at a potluck.
The cast is first rate. Nedra McClyde is the best-dressed principal I've ever seen. McClyde brilliantly shows her collapse from being the perfect principal to crawling on the floor to beat up a few people.
Crystal Finn makes Laurie Kaminski a bright-eyed, incompetent teacher. She never knows why her suggestions bring havoc to Fairfield School.
Brian Sills and Bjorn DuPaty each play two roles. With their abilities and the work of an excellent costumer neither is recognizable as the second character he plays. Sills is a bright, liberal father who wants to do the right things for the school and his children. But, in a moment he's back on stage with a padded belly and white hair, playing the superintendent who wants to fire the principal and the teachers. DuPaty is handsome, bright and working hard to help the school. But, when he comes on stage as Charles Clark, he's an old man, walking with a cane and speaking with a deep gravelly voice.
Leenya Rideout makes Molly Flemmingsen bright and tortured. How could her child hit another student? Where did she fail as a parent?
Marinda Anderson creates Vanessa Stubbs as a brittle woman who wants to protect her child but can't allow him to be beaten with paper clips in a slave and slave-master scene.
All of this works because of the excellent script written by Eric Coble. The playwright has honed a tight two-act script from which not a word can be cut. Each line moves the story forward. His work is a knee-slapping, whoop and holler comedy.
The superior direction by Laura Kepley helps create eight well-defined characters. She sets a brisk pace for the performance that doesn't give either cast or audience a chance to do anything but laugh. Kepley recently directed two other successful productions: The Little Foxes and Venus in Fur.
The Cleveland Play House should have a new motto: CPH - where the action is.
Fairfield, through May 31, 2015, at the Outcalt Theatre at Cleveland Play House. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or clevelandplayhouse.com.
The company's 2015-2016 season was recently announced. The season opens with the premiere of Ken Ludwig's new play A Comedy of Tenors (September 5 - October 3, 2015).
Playwright: Eric Coble
- David Ritchey