“Fairview” turns the tables on the white gaze

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      I’d explain the plot of Fairview to you, but I can’t.

      No, really—I don’t know what this play is about.

      The description on The Cultch’s website is intriguingly vague. Reviews (all raves) of previous versions of this show in other cities are equally ambiguous. Even the co-directors of Vancouver’s premiere of the play, which opens at The Cultch on September 27, aren’t giving anything away.

      “What to say about the show without letting the cat out of the bag?” muses Kwaku Okyere, who’s directing with Mindy Parfitt. “I think maybe one of the first places to start without saying too much is that it will certainly defy people’s expectations of what it is they normally experience when they enter into a theatre.”

      Mysterious! Intrigued? Me too, honestly.

      Here’s what I do know: it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that premiered in Manhattan, and has since been remounted in Brooklyn, Toronto, and London. It’s written by the revered American playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury. It’s about a family at a birthday party. It’s got a sitcom-like tone at the start, but then things quickly morph and unravel.

      “This play, as far as theatrical experiences go, is the ultimate moving target, Trojan horse of a play,” Okyere tells me on a video call. “The moment you think you know what it is, it transforms into something else. So it’s very difficult for the audience to put their finger on what the play is—until, at least, we reach the conclusion.”

      From what I can glean, Fairview is, at its core, a show about race, and about power, and about challenging the white gaze. Okyere agrees.

      “We live in a white world—that’s just the crux of the matter,” he says. “So I feel like the play aims to take that notion and put it into a theatrical context. And allow for the audience, regardless of what their racial identity is, to contend with that, and figure out: ‘What does that mean for me, from my vantage point, based on the intersections I have personally?’”

      The Vancouver production is being mounted by co-director Parfitt’s local theatre company, called The Search Party. For her, bringing in Okyere has added a richness to the process—and the resulting work.

      “I think it’s very beautiful, actually, that this relationship is being formed as the foundation from which this play is being created,” she reflects. “I think we have developed a real honesty with one another. There have been some bumps in the road and we’ve really spoken to those places and talked to each other about those things—and been there for each other as we’ve struggled with different elements of getting this piece to where it is.”

      Even though it’s their first time collaborating, there is a definite ease with which Parfitt and Okyere talk to and about each other. After all, if you really trust and respect someone—and it’s clear these two properly trust and respect each other—then joining forces is only ever going to make better art.

      “It’s been a really incredible experience, because directing is something you do on your own, normally—you hold the vision of this piece yourself,” says Parfitt. “There has been something in my body—I don’t even have the word for it yet. It’s not about relaxing, but there’s something very comforting that I feel physically about sharing that journey with somebody and about sharing the role of that with somebody. We have each other, and there’s something really powerful about knowing that we have each other.”

      As for what exactly they are creating together, I’m still not sure. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma with a birthday candle on top. Not knowing is half the fun, I think.

      And perhaps unsurprisingly, then, even the way the script was written has some unusual complexity to it. “This particular script requires a lot of detective work because the playwright doesn’t outright say basic things like where we are, or what time of day it is, or what season it is—all those sorts of things” Okyere says. “So you really have to pull out your magnifying glass and be like, ‘What are the little tidbits or nuggets of wisdom that are going to help me shape this vision for the show in a way that feels cohesive, and that doesn’t feel arbitrary or random?’”

      It’s a big task—that much is clear. As for the rest, well, you’ll just have to go see the show to find out. I’ll be right there with you.

      Fairview runs at The Cultch from September 27 to October 8.