Review: Pulitzer-Winning ‘Fairview’ Jump-Starts Woolly Mammoth’s New Season

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s 'Fairview,' winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, reminds us of the singular power of art to expose our deepest societal schisms.

The Woolly Mammoth Theater Company has rocket-launched its 40th anniversary season with a searing production of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Explosive, riveting, and totally unique, this brilliant work reminds us of the singular power of art to expose our deepest societal schisms. Woolly Mammoth’s production, directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, is the first since Fairview’s 2018 premiere production in New York. It is a must-see, but be aware, this play is far from a typical theater-going experience.

Samuel Ray Gates and Nikki Crawford in ‘Fairview’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Fairview starts with a familiar sitcom vibe. We’re invited into a comfortable home harking back to The Jeffersons and other “breakthrough” black TV comedies of the ’70s. The well-to-do Frasier family has gathered to celebrate Grandma’s birthday. All the character types are well-known: the super-efficient mom Beverly, her good-natured husband Dayton, their bright and energetic daughter Keisha, and Beverly’s sister Jasmine, whose wiseacre sarcasm ignites any room she enters. Beverly bustles through the well-appointed house, nervously insisting that the dinner must be perfect. Dayton and Keisha are enlisted to help. Jasmine offers no assistance but comments on everything. Amidst the bustle, however, something is a bit off. Beverly can’t stop peeling carrots, the tape deck malfunctions, the birthday cake burns, and Beverly finally crumples from stress.

The next scene propels us into the surreal. The black bourgeois Frasiers are now being watched by and commented upon by a quartet of off-stage voices whose speech patterns themselves suggest certain stereotypes. While the Frasiers spookily and silently resume their activities, the quartet surveils them and muses on questions of race. They ask each other, “If you could choose to be any race, what race would you be?” The query is seemingly innocuous – a sort of parlor game being played by bored people ensconced in their leisure. But their answers spiral into extraordinary racist tropes and horrifying, unapologetic expressions of white power. When Drury conjures a meet-up between the observers and the observed, chaos reigns.

Drury’s way of resolving (or not) her steadily thickening plot involves the audience in an unexpected way. A big piece of that resolution assumes (accurately, in this case) that the play-going audience is largely white and open to serious discussion of the power equation in America. The ending forces us to think back to the title itself. What starts as perhaps the name for the anodyne American suburb in which the Frasiers may live concludes with penetrating questions about the nature of fairness itself.

Woolly Mammoth’s incredible cast brings Drury’s work fully to life. Nikki Crawford (Beverly), Samuel Ray Gates (Dayton) and Shannon Dorsey (Jasmine) not only click fully with their verbal banter, but under Walker-Webb’s astute direction, they are balletic and precise with the movement (comedic and otherwise) required of their roles. Chinna Palmer, a recent Howard University graduate, shimmers as Keisha. Delicate as a butterfly and strong as a steel cable, she imbues this pivotal role with warmth, heart and a hesitant sort of bravery that keeps the audience in her thrall throughout. As the quartet of observers, Cody Nickell (Jimbo), Kimberly Gilbert (Suze), Christopher Dinolfo (Mack) and Laura C. Harris (Bets) are a manic, unstoppable force.

Nikki Crawford as Beverly in 'Fairview' at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Nikki Crawford as Beverly in ‘Fairview’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Scenic designer Misha Kachman provides an interior of the Frasier home that is pastel-perfect, fussy yet as bland as the Frasiers seem to be at first. The partial Palladian window on the second floor is both a towering emblem of their success and a means by which people can peer inside their lives. Costume designer Ivania Stack outfits Beverly in poufy-skirted splendor – the perfect ’70s hostess. Jasmine’s jazzy green, low-cut jumpsuit allows her to strut suggestively throughout the evening. Keisha is the only character afforded costume changes, perhaps a nod to the ‘beats’ she goes through as racial claustrophobia closes in on her during the evening.

Woolly Mammoth’s production of Fairview is not only an unforgettable evening of theater but it also literally challenges white-majority audiences to look at themselves as playgoers who have historically “owned” their seats. But as Keisha says, no group can or should own those seats forever. What would it look like if white people cede their tenancy? What would be the effect on black people? Those are questions that haunt the play, and, presumably, fuel the facilitated discussions on race that follow each performance.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Fairview plays through October 6, 2019, at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets at the box office or go online.


  1. “The Jeffersons”? Sorry, but you missed a lot of bread crumbs if you saw this as ‘movin on up’ in a New York West Side high rise apartment. Can we give the Frasiers credit for at least a little suburban ‘Gorgeous Prince George’s flavor or a Capitol Hill brownstone?
    With legendary Howard grad Phylicia Rashad, AKA Claire Huxtable subliminally embed in the family photo you missed a telling clue of the director’s clever use of imagery that I believe drew both black and white audience members into the faux familia feel of the perfect black established upscale family, rather than Striver’s Row!
    My only question, is if you missed that obvious context, did you migrate to the stage and join the white-identifying group for the after show discussion?


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