“To not spoil Fairview,” said playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury, “I can basically tell you nothing.” Drury’s 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Fairview, saw precious few performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It premiered off-Broadway at the Soho Repertory Theatre in 2018, which makes the upcoming production by the School of Theatre and Dance even more exciting. The New York Times described the play as “…dazzling and ruthless…one of the most exquisitely and systematically arranged ambushes of an unsuspecting audience in years.” Directed by M.F.A. candidate María Amenábar Farias, Fairview will be performed in Westhoff Theatre and runs March 25, 26, 30–31 at 7:30 p.m., March 27 at 2 p.m., and April 1–2 at 7:30 p.m.
Fairview begins as a familiar family dramedy. A small group of characters gather to celebrate Grandma’s birthday, but things go in unexpected directions when race becomes a part of the conversation. The Pulitzer committee describes Fairview as “A hard-hitting drama that examines race in a highly conceptual, layered structure, ultimately bringing audiences into the actors’ community to face deep-seated prejudices.”
In an interview with NPR, playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury elaborated on her concept behind the play, turning her attention on the white gaze:
“We (Sibblies Drury and director Sarah Benson) were both really interested in thinking about surveillance and why surveillance affects people of color in a deeper way, and this idea of being watched by someone as a person of color—there is automatically some sort of sense of suspicion, especially if the watcher is a white person. And so, we started from a place of trying to create what in the theater felt like a normal black family, and then introducing the idea of someone watching that family—and that watching (changes) their behavior and the course of their lives.” (NPR, 2019)
Since its premiere off-Broadway at Soho Repertory Theatre in 2018 and specifically after winning the Pulitzer in 2019, Fairview has received heightened buzz within the world of theatre and has been one of the most wanted plays to produce in professional theatre settings. As professional productions started making waves, the COVID-19 pandemic halted further production. The School of Theatre and Dance will stage one of the first productions of Fairview since the return to live performance. It is also one of the first productions of the play in Illinois.
The students involved in the School of Theatre and Dance production feel fortunate to bring this play to the stage. For two acting students, the experience of working on this show has taken them through a range of emotions as they tackle the relationships and themes within the play. Both students, however, share a similar reflection: Fairview will undoubtedly impact its audience.
Junior Musical Theatre and Acting Major Annesah Phillips plays matriarch Beverly Frasier.
“This show takes everyone involved (including the audience) on an emotional and mental rollercoaster. There are moments of extreme joy, anger, and sadness for all these characters and even when some of these characters feel these things, it might contradict the way the audience feels about the same situation. The show is complex and pulls from many different perspectives, so the emotional journey is impactful to say the least,” said Phillips.
“This play, though dramatized, shows us the harmful effects of casual racism and aggression; in a way that hopefully starts a few discussions in the classroom, at home, and with the people we all know and love,” said Phillips.
Matt Tenny, who plays Jimbo, is faced with a heightened challenge for an actor: playing a character that is so far from his true self.
“It is so messed up and it can be uncomfortable to say some lines because they just sound blatantly wrong, but this is necessary to bring these relevant issues to light. Racism is something that has been around for years and years and is something that is still going on today and it needs to be addressed. I’m looking forward to the audience seeing the slow reveal of the white characters because I think that is something that is so cool, and I cannot wait to see everyone’s reaction,” said Tenny.
“My experience with this production has honestly been awesome,” said Amenábar Farias. “It is so wonderful to work with a team that is passionate about this piece in every way. From actors to designers to stage management, everyone in our team not only cares about the story we are telling and the themes we are exploring but are actively seeking to find the best ways to engage with our audiences and fully communicate the message of the play with them to create change in our community. Working with people who care so much about the story we are telling has therefore made this process wonderful and being able to work in such a powerful piece has been truly inspiring and an overall incredible experience.”
When it comes to Fairview, we must ask ourselves, does this play go too far or does it not go far enough? Focusing on the racism of today, racial stereotypes, and the spotlight minorities are placed in daily, Fairview will have you leaving the theatre reflecting on your own actions.
Fairview breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience to play a role:
“I am most looking for audiences to find where they fit in in this story,” continues Farias. The story of Fariview is the story of our community. I hope audiences will understand that and see their own role within the story. This play is important now to remind us that activism requires stepping out of the comfort zone, that performative activism is not enough, and that activism is by nature uncomfortable.”
Tickets for Fairview are $10 for students and $12 for adults and can be purchased in person at the Center for the Performing Arts Box Office from Monday–Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. or online. Be advised that this production includes adult language and subject matter, racist comments and actions, as well as misrepresentation of minorities.