The playwright disturbs and frustrates and entertains us, and makes us wonder what we’re all doing there, watching black actors perform being human.
By Hilton Als
In 1978, the author Janet Malcolm published in this magazine a long and thought-provoking piece about family therapy. Titled “The One-Way Mirror,” Malcolm’s report described how a therapeutic session evolved over a period of time, shedding light on a particular psychosocial dynamic: how families respond to and resist the idea of outside “help.” Malcolm watched the proceedings through a one-way mirror, a device that allows the viewer to see in but keeps the players, so to speak, from seeing out. Theatre works in the same way. Audience members sit behind the invisible fourth wall, eavesdropping on dramas about what humans are capable, or incapable, of. The characters in “Fairview,” Jackie Sibblies Drury’s outstanding, frustrating, hilarious, and sui generis new play (directed with dynamism by Sarah Benson, at the Soho Rep), perform, for the most part, behind a one-way mirror, but it takes us a little while to understand that, and it takes until the end of the nearly two-hour, intermissionless spectacle for us to find out who has been under surveillance the whole time.
“Fairview” is an ugly show, gorgeously rendered. The set designer Mimi Lien has created a bourgeois nightmare of a living room, complete with a polyester rug and a cute little dinette set. Have peach pastels ever been used so well onstage, or looked so icky? …
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