Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine
Originally published in Theatre Is Easy.
By Lynn Nottage; Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Off Broadway, Play Revival Runs through 1.6.19 Signature Theatre Company, 480 West 42nd Street
Cherise Boothe in Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine. Photo by Monique Carboni.
BOTTOM LINE: A modern day Undine is thrust out of her Perrier lifestyle and back into her native Brooklyn backwaters. Undine Barnes Calles (Cherise Boothe) thrives as a ruthless PR executive catering to a niche market of newly wealthy Black clients. Between moments of berating her effervescent assistant (Mayaa Boateng) and organizing charity events, Undine weeps uncontrollably. The reason for her sorrow becomes apparent as her accountant announces that her husband has absconded with all of her money. The newly bankrupt Undine is banished from the elite social circles of Manhattan and forced back into the working class streets of Brooklyn. Although Undine wants to plot her comeback, her unexpected pregnancy weighs down her ability to navigate the frustrating world of public assistance bureaucracy.
The literary term fabulation describes writers who have transcended traditional literary styles through the experimentation of form, sequence, and realism. And indeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage fully embodies this term in the revival of her 2004 play. Fabulation is a satire and social commentary on the concept of upward mobility by erasure of the past. As such, it veers from the farcical and absurd and into some deeply painful truths.
Undine frequently breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly with her trademark faux-British accent, complete with arrogance and condescension. Although this effect can feel jarring, especially as it constantly interrupts the flow of the play, it’s effective in portraying just how different Undine is from the person she once was, which is why a re-education is in order. The most authentic and moving characters are not from the world she aspired to belong to, but from the world she has left behind. Nikiya Mathis is the scene-stealing inmate who contradicts all of Undine’s assumptions. Undine’s brother, played by the talented Marcus Callender, struggles after his tour in Iraq but shines in a way that brings the play to its knees.
Although the circumstances of Undine’s life are tragic, Nottage allows Undine to aspire to something great, perhaps not in the superficial world she used to claim, but in the natural world to which she has always belonged.
(Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, through January 6, 2019. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30 (except for 12/11, 12/25, and 1/1); Wednesdays at 2 and 7:30 (12/12 only at 7:30); Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 8 (1/12 only at 8); and Sundays at 2 and 7:30 (12/16 and 12/23 only at 2). Tickets are $35 through December 30 and $40 after January 2, and are available at signaturetheatre.org or by calling 212-244-7529.) Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine is by Lynn Nottage. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz. Choreography by Valeria Solomonoff. Scenic Design by Adam Rigg. Lighting Design by Yi Zhao. Sound Design by Palmer Hefferan. Costume Design by Montana Levi Blanco. Hair and Wig Design by Cookie Jordan. Production Stage Manager is Terri K. Kohler.
The cast is Mayaa Boateng, Cherise Boothe, Marcus Callender, J. Bernard Calloway, Dashiell Eaves, Ian Lassiter, Nikiya Mathis, and Heather Alicia Simms.