Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Gin Game, Ride the Cyclone and The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Without giving too much away, Fairview focuses on a Black family, one that resembles a typical dysfunctional family on TV sitcoms, whose lives are impacted by a group of white people. Exactly how the Caucasians insert themselves and overshadow the story the African American family is trying to tell I won't say. However, I will say that it illuminates and, especially if you're white, will most likely open your eyes to how minorities, in this case members of the Black community, are treated and basically silenced by whites in ways that very few other plays and films that tackle racism have ever done. It also has an ending that may make you feel uncomfortable or make you feel like you're being interrogated, but it also can be cathartic and eye opening.
Fairview is structured in three distinct sections, which are all set in the living room of the Frazier family. It starts with a story about a family we are familiar with seeing and then morphs into a conversation about racism among a group of white people. It then breaks the whole thing up and makes the audience observers, and in some way participants, and it forces us to pick up the pieces to see our own reflection in what's left behind in the aftermath.
However, the play is structured in a non-traditional way, which is somewhat of a distraction to the impact the ending has, especially if you're trying to make sense of the plot and how everything fits together. Drury gives us a familiar story of a middle-income Black family hosting a birthday party for their grandmother, and then throws in oddities such as a food fight, a pregnancy of possible immaculate conception, a radio that has odd interruptions of static, and a group of white people pondering what race they'd chose to become if they had the ability to change races.
While several of those items don't have a true payoff, Drury's use of white stereotypes to show their impact on racism is perfect. Of the four white characters, one is a sensitive woman who believes she understands race since she was raised by a Black housekeeper, and another is a gay man who believes he is excused from any racist thoughts since he's also a minority. The other male in the group is a white man who feels like he can talk over everyone to get his way, including going off on a profanity-strewn monologue that drives home his toxic masculinity. The last member is a European woman who thinks her intelligence in understanding various different classes in small European countries makes her more adept at talking about the topic of race than her American friends. Some of the comments these four individuals make are ones that you may realize you've made as well, which shows how keenly focused some of Drury's dialogue is.
Your thoughts on Fairview will probably vary depending on your perspective of the topic of racism in America. Drury also makes it very clear that since white people are the majority of those with the income and the desire to attend the theatre that they will usually be the majority of the audience members attending a production and also, most likely, the ones most impacted by this play. She even has a character ask, "do I have to keep talking to the white people?"
As a white man, I also know that the play asks, in an indirect way, if I should even be the person to write a review of it. Because of that, I won't do my usual review format but will simply say that this production is good but not great. The set and costumes are effective and the direction fairly good. However, some of the cast could project more so their dialogue could be easier to hear. I wonder if the ending would have even more of an impact than it did at the performance I attended, where it seemed to offer more confusion than clarity, if some of the performances were clearer and sharper.
Fairview is a thought-provoking drama about privilege, fairness, responsibility and representation. There is also much uncertainty in the ending that could shock or confuse but also possibly stimulate you. It also asks some pertinent questions that will make you think. Who decides which stories are told and who decides who gets to listen and watch them? Who should be the one to write about them? Since I'm white, should I even be writing this review of a play by a Black playwright about racism? Will those of us in the majority make space for those who aren't, and, to dissect the title, will we ever truly have a view that is fair and equal to everyone?
Stray Cat Theatre's Fairview runs through May 6, 2023, at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480 227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.
Director: Brianna Fallon