Volume III, Issue II Summer 2004

'Fabulation' a witty satire about the black bourgeoisie

Nottage also throws comic barbs at rappers, gigolos, drug culture and welfare system

By Lucy Komisar


Fabulation, or, the Re-Education of Undine
Written by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Kate Whoriskey

Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street
Through July 11

Lynn Nottage is a sharp, sensitive, very clever playwright, whose wit has deep roots and whose satire is leavened by warmth. "Fabulation" puts the black bourgeoisie under scrutiny and gently tweaks its social snobbery, shallow friendships and rejection of roots.

But there are also some barbs for members of the black working-class who think that in the ghetto everyone is more brilliant than he or she is given credit for.

The welfare system is shown as Kafkaesque, and group therapy is skewered as well.

The clear winners are the theater-goers who have the good fortune to view intelligent, comic social criticism.

The story revolves around Undine (the very svelte and biting Charlayne Woodard), a snooty woman of 39 who wears her smashing white suit and corn-row hair with great panache. But her outward glory hides an inner vacuum: she is nasty to her secretary and devoted to organizing celebrity parties and other events via a boutique PR firm "catering to the vanity and confusion of the African-American nouveau riche elite."

The cast of 'Fabulation'
Photo by Joan Marcus
The world comes smashing down when her accountant informs her that the chic Argentine husband she married for his flair has emptied their bank accounts and fled. Then Undine discovers she's pregnant.

No cash, no friends (they desert when they find she has no money), she returns to the Brooklyn housing project and family she hasn't seen for 14 years, since she graduated from Dartmouth (one assumes on scholarship). A quibble here: How come a smart lady like Undine doesn't get an abortion? She raises no religious qualms and definitely does not want a baby. And why would she give her last $1,000 to a phony African priest?

But the rest of the story line is firmly rooted in reality, a reality set on its head to point out its cruel absurdities.

The picaresque vignettes of how she got to this point and what happens to her flash by in lively sequence under the fast-paced and droll direction of Kate Whoriskey.

Undine's previous boyfriend, Mo' Dough, a rapper with gold teeth, shows that he is becoming "more ghetto" by progressively twisting his cap around till the visor faces backward.

Hervé, the errant husband, is perfectly portrayed by Robert Montano, who mimics the look and demeanor of a tango film hero. He does a very funny caricature of a man eating crudités – apparently what endeared him to Undine.

At home in Brooklyn, her mother, father and brother are all security guards. Brother Flow (Daniel Breaker), who flipped out in Desert Storm, is writing a rap epic on Br'er Rabbit. "Fabulation" is the creation of the fabulous poem. We discover that Undine's real name is Sharona Watkins.

Well, maybe you can go home again. Undine makes an unexpected connection with the pervasive drug culture, leading to participation in a very funny counseling session. The horror of the welfare bureaucracy is drawn sharply, albeit with humor: When was the last time you saw a welfare recipient reading "Vanity Fair"? Nottage, who once worked for Amnesty International, has a sense of passion about the unnecessary and infuriating humiliation visited on people.

The production is superbly acted by the entire cast, with special mention merited by Woodard and also by Myra Lucretia Taylor as Grandma.

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