Lynn Nottage’s “Fabulation: or The Re-Education of Undine” is on stage at the Mosaic Theater through Sept. 22, and though this comic tale is full of laughs, its layered messages around systemic racism will hit home with those who have been similarly impacted.
Written by Nottage, the only woman to win the Pulitzer Prize twice for drama, the play is a clever contemporary recasting of Carter G. Woodson’s 1933 “The Mis-Education of the Negro.” In his blistering presentation, Woodson describes how systemic and institutionalized racism promotes inter and intra-racial basis.
In the play, Undine, the owner of a powerhouse PR boutique, has climbed the social ladder in a rags-to-riches story, leaving her family behind in the Brooklyn projects where she grew up as Sharona. When her husband absconds with all of her money, she has to go back and live with her family whose status she had lied about in a magazine article, stating they had died in a fire.
Brilliantly directed by Eric Ruffin who added an underlying African-based theme, the play stars the talented Felicia Curry as Undine, a driven and materialistic striver now humbled when she has to return to her roots and find her true self again. Ruffin added the presence of African spirits, chants and percussive instruments to re-connect Udine with her roots as circumstances force her to deal with unforeseen traumas, including losing her business which she has built over 14 years and being arrested for drug possession. When she has to go to social services to apply for medical assistance and treated condescendingly, it is the ultimate humiliation.
Seven other talented cast members make up the superb ensemble, and all play multiple roles. Aakhu TuahNera Freeman plays Undine’s grandmother who has a secret drug habit; a doctor; and an inmate. William T. Newman Jr. plays a Yoruba Priest and Undine’s father. Carlos Saldaña plays Undine’s smooth as silk husband, Herve’, who steals all of her money, and Guy, a compassionate recovering junkie who falls in love with Undine.
Lauryn Simone plays Stephie, Undine’s fashion-challenged assistant; a drug counselor; and Devora, a former childhood acquaintance. James Whalen plays Undine’s accountant, Richard, and a recovering junkie. Playing the roles of Undine’s mother; bougie friend Allison; and former childhood acquaintance, Rosa, is Roz White.
Rounding out the cast is Kevin E. Throne II who plays Flow, Undine’s poetry-spouting bother, as well as FBI agent Duva.
The strength of this piece is in the transformation that Undine undergoes; she realized that her Dartmouth College education may have helped her on her upward journey, but it has distanced her from her family who were strivers, in their way.
Her mother and father settled for positions as university security guards when they were not able to land better positions as police officers and her brother has written what he considers to be an epic poem on race relations, but after serving in the war he was never able to finish it.
Her grandmother even has unrealized dreams, but because of raising a family, never had them to come true. While some details are a bit far-fetched, the play wonderfully conveys its message of the importance of not losing one’s connection to one’s family and ancestors.
This socially-relevant production opens up Mosaic’s Season 5 titled, a “Season of Awakenings,” which Founding Artistic Director Ari Roth notes will feature a series of eye-opening revelations “where characters will wake up to their blind spots, venturing forth on unexpected journeys that land each in brave new places.”
Be sure to check out the nights that will feature post-show discussions.