By Kimberly Rau
Beverly Frasier is stressed out. It’s her mother’s birthday dinner, and everything has to be perfect…so of course, it’s not. Nothing major. Just her husband, Dayton, keeps forgetting what he’s supposed to do. Her sister, Jasmine, is equal parts exhausting and fabulous, and finds fault in the tiniest things. Her daughter, Keisha, doesn’t want to go straight to college like her mother, aunt and grandmother did; she’d rather take a gap year. And her brother, Tyrone, has gotten held up at his law firm again and had to take a later flight. And then there’s the matter of the root vegetables, which may or may not be ready for the oven.
Sounds like a basic slice of life story for one suburban Black family. A little boring, even. Just a regular family undergoing the death by a thousand paper cuts that comes with hosting any event.
And then things take a turn, and we, the predominantly white (at least at the performance I saw) audience are forced to confront things like white voices speaking over Black experiences…in this case, literally. At first, this is somewhat lighthearted, but, without revealing the main spoilers of the show, gets more and more intense until the entire evening comes crashing down (and none of it is poor Beverly’s fault). What starts out as a fairly mundane storyline turns into an eye-opening discussion on race relations in America, and begs us to examine the question: why is “white” considered the default race? Why do we as white people feel like we’re the authority on fixing the problems we perceive with other races? And why do we find it so hard to just be silent and listen to the other voices in the room?
This is a powerful work, and Jackie Sibblies Drury’s script is masterfully executed under Christopher Windom’s direction, with a flawless cast to bring it to life. Mia Ellis is a wonderful Beverly, whose love for her family shines even in the most stressful situations. Her daughter Keisha, perfectly played by Aizhaneya Carter, is charismatic, dramatic and lovable. Her biggest concern is how to tell her mother she wants a break from academia and sports before going to college. Jackie Davis’s energy fills the room as Jasmine, creating the perfect balance of the fun aunt and exasperating sister (every family has one). She is a joy to watch. And Joe Wilson Jr. plays Dayton, a man who clearly enjoys his family but also really enjoys winding up his wife. Wilson is fantastic as always, with a laid-back energy that is the perfect counterpart to Ellis’ high-strung tension.
The entire thing is set against a beautiful, if intentionally nondescript, set designed by Lex Liang. It’s a two-story upper middle class home that acts as a blank canvas for the intentions of both the main characters and their self-appointed narrators later on.
This is a show that is so much more than its synopsis, and will have you talking about it long after you leave. There’s an audience participation element at the end as well, which is well worth taking part in if you are physically able. Trinity is closing its 2021 – 2022 season on a high note. Don’t miss it.
Fairview runs through June 19 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at trinityrep.com or by calling 401.351.4242. Masks and proof of vaccination or negative Covid test required.