How Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Experiment With Fairview Paid Off in a Big Way

Playbill Pride   How Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Experiment With Fairview Paid Off in a Big Way
The now Pulitzer Prize–winning play makes its return to Off-Broadway through July 28, ready for a different ending every night.
Jackie Sibblies Drury
Jackie Sibblies Drury Marc J. Franklin

Before the world premiere of Fairview last summer, playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury had no idea that the play she’d been quietly developing—with the help of Soho Rep. and Berkeley Repertory Theatre—was about to make some noise in the theatre world. “I think the only reason, at least for us, that we did it was that it felt like an experiment for an audience of 65 [people],” says Drury. “It felt like a contained and small thing.”

That small thing blew up in a big way. Following a sold-out, extended run, the Soho Rep. production of Fairview, this year’s widely acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize–winning play, returns Off-Broadway to Theatre For a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center through July 28. Directed by Sarah Benson with choreography by Raja Feather Kelly, the play begins (and looks) like a typical family drama: the Frasier family is preparing for Grandma’s birthday, and like most familial gatherings, tensions ebb and flow. But there’s a different kind of tension running through Fairview, and by the time we get to the fourth wall–defying final act, it’s clear that there’s nothing typical about Drury’s play at all.

MaYaa  Boateng and Roslyn Ruff in <i>Fairview</i>
MaYaa Boateng and Roslyn Ruff in Fairview

What started off for the playwright as an exploration of surveillance, Fairview is about spectatorship, privilege, power, and race. Without giving away the show’s ending, it’s enough to say that no single performance is ever the same. It can also be said that Fairview requires something of the audience; which, in this day and age, demands new considerations. “The line between performer and audience feels more porous now, in a lot of work, just because of politics.… [We wanted to have] every possible worst-case scenario mapped out,” says the playwright. “Sarah [Benson] was really adamant that if anyone in the cast felt unsafe for any reason, that they had the power to stop the show.”

But mostly it just made for thrilling theatre. It’s Drury’s love of the form itself—that a play, by its very nature, asks a new bunch of strangers to approach it together for the first time—which continues to excite her.

“[Audiences can be made up of] 12-year-olds and 70-year-olds, people from intense privilege and people from lack of privilege—that you can have all these people with different backgrounds come in without any prior shared experience, and share an experience, is something that is, hopefully, beautiful,” says the playwright. “And genuinely exciting. It’s something that doesn’t happen in that many other rooms in our society.”

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