KC Melting Pot Theatre’s Fairview reflects America’s race obsession through a funhouse mirror

The
Screenshot 2023 02 17 At 53219 Pm

Longview at Melting Pot. // Photo by Thomas Kimble-TK Photography

If you’re going to make one of the final performances of KC Melting Pot Theatre’s production of Fairview, just leave this review behind and go catch the show with no further context.

Okay, there was your out.

Fairview has a lot of tricks up its sleeve. Among them, one of the most powerful is its weaponized ability to lull you into a false sense of security and then spring the trap. That it can manage to do this with each progressive act break is a delightful turn, but by no means does the show’s meta-narrative devices detract from the power of what it accomplishes up to (and beyond) the lights coming up at the end.

Director Lynn King’s take on Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play opens with a middle class Black family prepping for a dinner in honor of their grandmother. There’s a husband and wife who have flirtacious back-and-forths that reveal a simmering concern about family dynamics, a relation who is maybe too fun for the room, a daughter dealing with concerns about college… it’s a full act of the show that’s simply nothing. Which is fine. How many plays have long set-ups for small character pieces that have very low stakes and little in the way of memorable breaks? It’s just fine, normal, slice-of-life nothing.

And then, the show restarts.

This time, while the full act plays out again in pantomime, an audience of spectators has appeared above the stage. These four viewers can see and hear the family acting out their mundane meal prep, but are far less interested in the substance of what’s happening. Rather, they’re engaged in an argument about a hypothetical: If you could switch to being any other race, what would you be? The characters in this chorus are not brilliant, or even that smart, so this isn’t meant to be a compelling commentary. This bigger question is treated with the kind of grandstanding and asides reminiscent of a bad first date; bullshitting while drunk at the bar while a football game plays on the TV and only accidentally recaptures the group’s attention in small moments.

Early in this act, the show’s light establishing touch only furthers to heighten the hilarity—and grotesque frustration—of everything to follow. As the upper-level surveyors tumble further into inanity, the more they convince themselves they are engaged in profound intellectual debate, and the toxicity of their drivel begins to seep down and poison the lives of the family to whom they cannot be bothered to dedicate more than a fraction of their attention.

The last 30 minute or so of Fairview are the hardest I’ve laughed with a stage production since moving to Kansas City, and equally some of the most personal challenging. The play finds a dark poigonency by elevating the questions of discourse around race and class in America to the point of cartoonish embellishment. The choices made by the theater and its cast manage to use the build to this ridiculously heightened perspective to accomplish a shared audience level of discomfort and frustration that sticks a landing, where other recent productions aiming for a similar target have missed the mark.

This gets our highest possible recommendation—a success on every level.

The show stars Amber Redmond, Daniel Andre, Jackie Price, Markeyta Young, Doug Dresslaer, Briana Van Deusen, Ebonee Grace, ane John Van Winkle. A single performance of this run remains, Saturday the 18th at 7:30 p.m. with tickets available here. You should go.

Categories: Theater