It’s rare that a theatrical event so thoroughly pulls the rug out from under me. I’ve come to cherish these innovative, discomfiting experiences and I’m glad I didn’t know anything about Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama ahead of time.
Fairview, presented by Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre, starts off feeling fun and familiar, perhaps a little generic. Jawon Kang’s set is an impressive and imposing space. This living room feels luxurious yet distinctly neutral, even vaguely false. In it, an affluent and eccentric Black family prepares for a birthday dinner for the unseen grandmother. At the top, we are given an eerie clue that something’s amiss—a very David Lynch-ian flash of electrical arcing and glitch in the stereo—before we’re launched into what feels like a sit-com scenario.
Beverly (Ordena Stephens-Thompson) is just trying to chop her damn carrots. Her husband, Dayton (Peter N. Bailey) exasperates her; she loves him, but his endearing quirks are pretty extra. Her sister Jasmine (Sophia Walker), ruffles Beverly’s feathers, swooping onto the scene with her French rosé wine and opinions! Beverly’s daughter Keisha (Chelsea Russell), concerned for her future, seems the only one particularly unsettled by the overall shenanigans. This world of quips, perfectly timed entrances, and hokey family drama doesn’t sit quite right with her.
Director Tawiah M’Carthy amps up the stage business, maintains a light and breezy momentum with sight gags and performative charisma. At first, it all feels pretty light and unchallenging, on the edge of camp and ever-so slightly tipping over. Just as we’ve fully relaxed into the vibe, we are given the first shift in form.
After a blackout, the same scenario begins to play out again; this time, though, the mimed action is accompanied by a jarring new soundtrack—the voices of four white people—Bets (Jennifer Dzialoszynski), Suze (Sascha Cole), Mack (Jeff Lillico) and Jimbo (Colin A. Doyle)—providing commentary on this show as they watch it. After discussing which race they’d be if they could choose, like exotic costumes to try on at whim, they begin to challenge each other with vacuous semantics about what race means to them. It’s super cringy and… well, hold on tight.
As the end draws near, the situation devolves into farce. Vaguely discomfiting undercurrents that have been gradually rising up from the deep burst into full-on, racially charged absurdist spectacle. The over-the-top antics are hilarious, thrilling and increasingly sinister.
It seems, at first, that the play’s primary aim is satirical—leading us to unpack our understanding of how a white gaze corrupts Black stories; or, at least, how we—white people—want to experience them. There’s a delightful frisson whenever, for example, certain flamboyant behaviours from the scenario line up with the white people’s discussion and uncomfortably reframed as minstrelsy.
Drury is certainly poking at how white people define the terms of our investment in Black stories. She wants to go deeper, though—to make this an actual experience, to shift the power dynamics. The finale, lead by Russell in a truly arresting mode, is designed to dismantle the theatrical framework in a way that throws white audience members off their balance.
I’d like to read the play as I’m curious how much of this coda is scripted, how much was invented by Russell on the fly in response to specific circumstances. The most astonishing aspect of the experience, though, despite the deliberate disruption of convention, is how authentic it feels in the moment.
I’m very aware that this is leading you to forget that Fairview is, for the most part, a lot of fun. There’s hilarity and spectacle, fabulous outfits, compelling subversion, and some absolute mayhem. It shows you a really good time before it drags your positioning into the spotlight.