Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
As the action begins, Beverly (Natalie Venetia Belcon) stands at that dining table, peeling carrots, preparing for a birthday dinner for her mother. Soon she will be joined by her husband Dayton (Charles Browning), sister Jasmine (Chantal Jean-Pierre), and daughter Keisha (Monique Robinson). The family is black, but (other than the occasional "Gurrl!" from Jasmine) Drury avoids almost every theatrical trope into which black characters are so often placed. You could stage the first 30 minutes of the play with white actors or Asian actors or Latinx actors and never notice the difference. After that, all bets are off.
Beverly is stressed. She wants this dinner to be perfect, but as she listens to a recording of Sly & the Family Stone singing "Family Affair," she begins to lip sync and dance to the song, dancingas the phrase goesas if no one is watching. She checks her look in a mirror (unseen, for she is standing downstage, looking straight at us) with the same easy comfort of knowing no one is watching. Later, when both Jasmine and Keisha do the same thing, with the same innocent openness, it begins to feel just slightly uncomfortable: we're not supposed to take such voyeuristic pleasure watching someone who thinks they aren't being observed. Get ready, because that feeling is about to be cranked up to 11.
But first Drury will continue to reveal her characters to us: Beverly, the stressed-out perfectionist and tiger mom; Dayton, her loving, sometimes forgetful husband; Keisha, the perfect honor student daughter pleading to take a gap year; and Jasmine, the sassy sister who has nothing good to say about anyone but herself. Drury's dialogue is spot-on, naturalistic, energetic, and true to each character, and she creates opportunities for dramatic interaction that feel simultaneously familiar and fresh.
Beyond this, I'm hesitant to say more about Fairview. After the first 30 minutes or so, Drury rewinds the action back to the top of the show, but does so in a way that completely upends our sense of what is actually unfolding in front of us. Are we the only observers in the theater? Are we being watched just as closely as the family on stage? I wouldn't answer those questions for you even if I had the answers. Just know that the final 60 minutes will take you to places you have likely never before been in a theater. The fourth wall will be annihilated more completely (and perhaps uncomfortably) than you can currently imagine. You will have your conceptions of race and racism upended. You will have no idea what's happening right in front of your eyesand love every minute of that mystery.
The set is gorgeous (though, true to Drury's intent to upend our expectations about race, it could just as easily serve as the set for a production of Other Desert Cities or Clybourne Park or God of Carnage.) It's confined within a thick black frame that represents an almost moat-like fourth wallwhich gives the destruction of that edifice even greater impact once it finally topples entirely.
The castthose mentioned previously, plus Brooke Bloom, Natalia Payne, Jed Resnick, and Luke Robertsonare each excellent, and clearly relish this unique opportunity to bust out of the theatrical conventions in which they have clearly been well-trained. I'm imagining performing in Fairview is nearly as thrilling and unsettling as it is for we in the audience to experience.
Fairview will challenge your assumptions about race and theatre and the social, political, and economic contract in ways you cannot now imagine, but you owe it to yourselfand to every other humanto spend 90 minutes inside the Peet's Theatre to have those assumptions obliterated by a stunningly realized, intensely crafted work of theatrical art.
Fairview, through November 4, 2018, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Peet's Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA. Shows are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., and 2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets from $30-$97, with discounts available for students, seniors, and groups. Tickets are available online at www.berkeleyrep.org, or by calling the box office at (510) 647-2949.