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'Fairview' by Jackie Sibblies Drury

A Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre co-production now onstage at Berkeley Street Theatre

A Canadian Stage and Obsidian Theatre co-production now onstage at Berkeley Street Theatre

Joe Szekerers

Credit: John Lauener. L-R: Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Peter N. Bailey, Sophia Walker, Chelsea Russell

"Jackie Sibblies Drury’s ‘Fairview’ demands its audiences to listen, listen and listen. I like when that happens. Tawiah M’Carthy’s solid direction throughout resulted in artful performances. The closing monologue took my breath away."

The Frasier household busily prepares for a birthday party for the family’s grandmother. It appears things are running behind schedule. Daughter Beverly (Ordena Stephens-Thompson) peels the carrots. She is not dressed for the party yet. While she is listening to music, there’s a brief power surge which briefly shuts the music off and then back on. Beverly’s husband Dayton (Peter N. Bailey) assists his wife with the preparation. Sometimes he doesn’t listen to her instructions and other times he pokes fun at her for all the fuss she is creating.

Beverly’s sister, Jasmine (Sophia Walker) arrives sharply dressed for the birthday celebration. Later, Beverly and Dayton’s daughter, Keisha (Chelsea Russell) arrives home from an after-school practice. She and Jasmine hold a brief conversation about the young girl not wanting to go to college after high school graduation. Keisha begs her aunt to speak to Beverly about this decision. During the dinner preparation, Beverly receives a telephone call from her brother Tyrone that he cannot come to the party because his plane is delayed. With all this commotion and fuss going on, Beverly is overcome with exhaustion and faints.

The party guests then arrive and all is never the same again.

The eyebrow-raising plot twists in Drury’s dense and intricate script provide some very comical and dark looks at modern twenty-first-century life.

It’s important not only to hear what’s being said in ‘Fairview’ but crucial to listen to what’s being said and implied.

At first glance, Jawon Kang’s set design of this immaculate-looking upscale middle-class home is gorgeous. However, there’s also an underlying sense that something just does not seem right. For example, there are no pictures in the picture frames. Everything just appears to be too clean looking, too tidy, and too perfect. Logan Cracknell’s lighting design warmly underscores and dramatically heightens the surprising plot twists of this diverse family unit. Rachel Forbes’ stylish costumes aptly reflect the unique diversity of the characters.

Miquelon Rodriguez’s sound design is of the utmost importance to highlight. Three of the several song selections in the pre-show music immediately caught my ear. They are three television sitcom themes: ‘In Living Color’, ‘That’s So Raven’ and ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ that focus on black characters.

A brief bit of historical and personal context is necessary here. And I’m not apologizing for my experience.

When I started teaching in the mid-1980s outside of Toronto, the schools where I taught were predominately white. Teaching jobs were scarce and educators took what was offered to them. And that’s what I did. As a new teacher wanting to gain experience, I didn’t have much time to watch these aforementioned shows. However, my students did. Periodically I would watch these situation comedies to see what the kids were watching.

Although it wasn’t made clear back then, the fact is now abundantly clear. We watched, heard, and listened to the stories through our white lens of the fictional lives of characters played by artists from the mid-1980s black community. Inevitably this white view predominated how we saw people from the black community for quite some time.

It is this biased thinking we are asked to re-evaluate in ‘Fairview’. The title seems highly ironic. Have we given a truly fair view to this notion of race? Chelsea Russell (who plays Keisha) writes in her programme note: “It’s time that we switched for a little while, because as uncomfortable as it is to watch, it’s even more uncomfortable to perform – to live.”

How true, Chelsea, that we must sit in this discomfort for a while, but how necessary it is.

Initially, ‘Fairview’ plays like an 80s sitcom and director Tawiah M’Carthy cleverly plays that for comic effect with staged one-line zingers back and forth. However, M’Carthy daringly turns ‘Fairview’ on its head in what I will call Part 2. In a ‘Noises Off’ format, Part 1 is silently replayed in front while we hear some dreadfully horrible commentaries from monitored offstage voices. A warning these commentaries will ‘challenge the sensibilities’ (as Ordena Stephens-Thompson had written in the programme note) but stay with it and listen to what’s being said despite some of the vulgarity. It is in Part 3 that the other party guests arrive. Drury’s script calls out what Sophia Walker (who plays Jasmine) writes are: “the assumptions, ignorance and the OTHERED experience…and try to understand why we are the way we are.”

The ensemble cast is exceptional from start to finish.

Ordena Stephens-Thompson is a forceful Beverly who stands her ground for good reason. Sophia Walker is a sassy and saucy Jasmine. Peter N. Bailey’s Dayton at first is that stereotypical sitcom husband who makes fun of his harried wife who is preparing for the birthday dinner. Bailey’s importance becomes strongly evident in Part 3. Party guests Sascha Cole, Colin A. Doyle, Jennifer Dzialoszynski and Jeff Lillico determinedly deliver on the surprising twists of the notions of race and privilege. Their monitored commentary surveillance voices strongly resonate and pierce right to the gut.

As Keisha, Chelsea Russell delivers a dynamite powerhouse range of emotions. Her closing monologue is astounding. It left me with chills running up and down my spine. Russell leaves us questioning if we have truly given a ‘fair view’ in creating a particular narrative and have not lived the necessary experience in doing so.

Final Comments: ‘Fairview’ demands a lot from its audience and rightly so. The script pierces, cuts and digs deep into how we confront theatre and race. And that’s what good theatre should do.

Go see it.

Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

‘Fairview’ runs until March 26 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit or call 1-416-368-3110.

Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury

Directed by Tawiah M’Carthy
Set Designer: Jawon Kang
Costume Designer: Rachel Forbes
Lighting Designer: Logan Cracknell
Sound Designer: Miquelon Rodriguez
Stage Manager: Victoria Wang

Performers: Peter N. Bailey, Sascha Cole, Colin A. Doyle, Jennifer Dzialoszynski, Jeff Lillico, Chelsea Russell, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Sophia Walker.

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