Review: Trinity Rep Offers Refreshing and Important 'Fairview'

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 1, 2022

Mia Ellis and Joe Wilson, Jr. in "Fairview"
Mia Ellis and Joe Wilson, Jr. in "Fairview"  (Source:Cat Laine)

Trinity Repertory Company ends its 2021-2022 season with "Fairview," a Pulitzer Prize-winning work by Jack Sibblies Drury. It is the kind of play that opens with a seemingly standard comedic take on a middle class family. But things aren't at all what they seem, and this incredibly refreshing, important work puts a spin on what theater can accomplish when handled by a deft directorial hand and skilled acting.

Beverly (the amazing Mia Ellis,) and her husband Dayton (the electric Joe Wilson, Jr.) are preparing a dinner party for her mom. She argues with her sister Jasmine (Jackie Davis, who inhabits every role with skill and versatility) about family, relationships, and Beverly's daughter Keisha (newcomer Aizhaneya Carter, who is excellent in her debut.) Jasmine muses about Beverly's relationship with Dayton, Keisha asks Jasmine for advice on taking a break after high school before entering college, etc. 

But after Beverly faints, the stage darkens and we're treated to characters mimicking their actions from the first act — but this time there's a running commentary from four unseen people. We become aware that these people are white; their commentary is initially about "switching" races and whom they would switch with, and why. Plus, one of them has a European accent, giving way to more musings on race and color. But as the actors continue their mime, the commentary gets personal, and the voices are more specifically directing observations at the family, all of whom are Black. 

Drury inserts an unease that's felt onstage by Keisha's character in the first act; she is missing something in her family unit's experience. But it isn't until the third act that we actually see Beverly's mom appear (as well as three more characters only casually spoken of) and Keisha's unease takes shape. As grandmother descends the staircase, she's dressed to the nines and makes a splash. Sitting down at the table to eat, the family asks to join hands in thanks. But this daughter seems to really not know her grandmother, and when her uncle, a school chum, and another "relative" arrive at the house, things become truly chaotic.

What Drury does so incredibly well is challenge the way people are seen. This reviewer is not going further into spoilers about the revelations in Acts Two and Three; instead, the story must be experienced organically, because this is a deep subject that needs to be explored with Keisha and the audience in a way that will not be revealed here. But, as mentioned earlier, it's about switching places, and how we're perceived by others by our skin color, our language, and what that gives others preconceived notions about. It forces prejudices to light, in this case under the bright lights of a stage where they cannot be hidden away. 

Christopher Windom directs here, and he has a long list of associate director and choreography credits from Broadway shows, as well as having choreographed the 2021 film "Respect," starring Jennifer Hudson. Jackie Sibblies Drury is a 2010 graduate of Brown MFA's playwriting program, and her earlier work "Social Creatures" was produced by Trinity in 2013. This play won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. An explosive and revolutionary season-ender, "Fairview" is a commentary that will leave the audience talking for years to come. 

"Fairview" is runs through June 19th at Trinity Repertory Company 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903. For information or tickets, call 401-351-4242 or visit www.trinityrep.com . Trinity is still one of several Rhode Island theaters requiring proof of vaccination and masks worn at all times while attending performances.