Trading Places | Theater | Style Weekly

At first, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer-winning play “Fairview” seems like the kind of familiar sitcom set-up we’ve seen a million times over.

Beverly Frasier, the protagonist, is anxiously readying her house for her mother’s birthday in her upper-middle class home. Her husband, their daughter, and her sister are of no help. Will Beverly be able to cook the carrots, bake the cake and set the table in time?

“She is preparing this amazing dinner that must be perfect,” says local actress Katrinah Carol Lewis, who plays Beverly in the University of Richmond production of “Fairview” that opens Nov. 17. “She is doing her best to hold everything together when everything that could go wrong is going wrong.”

But before long — and without giving too much away — it’s revealed that things aren’t quite what they seem. In the second act, a group of characters comment on race as the Frasier family mimics their actions from before.

This second group is white. The Frasier family, by the way, is Black. And through this theatrical device, the play gives a raw look at the insidiousness of white supremacy. The New York Times called the off-Broadway production “a glorious, scary reminder of the unmatched power of live theater to rattle, roil and shake us wide awake.”

“It is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It is funny. It’ll surprise you. It will ask something of you while also entertaining you,” says Lewis, who says the play begins like a 1980s sitcom episode of “Family Matters,” “Full House” or “The Cosby Show.” “It is a unique exploration of some of the things that we are trying to deal with and explore as a society.”

Director Chuck Mike says the show’s structure has been one of the more challenging that he’s tackled in his 45-year theatrical career.

“I call it a treasure of composition, in terms of language, structure and ideas,” says Mike, an associate professor of theater at UR. “It’s deceptively engaging. It keeps you wondering what’s going to happen, and at times, what the hell is happening.”

He says the play probes what he calls the second pandemic facing America: racism.

“It does this by closely examining one of its most stringent features, which is the white gaze,” he says. “This writer takes us on a visceral journey to explore what is perceived and what is real about Black people, and the impact that misconceptions have on all of us.”

Through a series of perspective-altering surprises, the show challenges its audience to consider the backgrounds and assumptions that they bring into the theater. After all, theater is a medium with predominantly white audiences, critics and producers.

“It’s a damn good moment of entertainment, in addition to having a strong message that everyone, I think, can appreciate,” says Mike of “Fairview.”

Zakiyyah Jackson, who plays Beverly’s sister Jasmine in the show, says “Fairview” isn’t a show that’s easily forgotten.

“Fairview is a story about watching,” Jackson says. “More specifically, it is about Black people being watched by white people who then decide to insert themselves where they do not belong.

“You will laugh, you will cry, and you will walk away feeling something.”

University of Richmond’s “Fairview” plays Nov. 17-19 at the Modlin Center for the Arts, 453 Westhampton Way, 23173. For more information, visit modlin.richmond.edu.






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