Presented by and at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42 St., NYC, casting by James Calleri, CSA,
June 13-July 11.
Lynn Nottage's "Fabulation or, The Re-education of Undine" is sort of a reverse version of her prize-winning "Intimate Apparel." In the latter, an economically strapped African-American seamstress struggles to improve her lot in 1904 New York only to have her life savings stolen by a shiftless husband. "Fabulation" follows a similar heroine, but her journey is downward after a spouse's betrayal. The Undine of the title works as a high-end publicist in modern-day Manhattan who must return to her abandoned Brooklyn roots after her ritzy business has been bankrupted.
Nottage sets herself a much more difficult task with this play than with "Apparel." Undine is a decidedly unsympathetic protagonist, while the seamstress of "Apparel" was admirable. The structure is also looser, with the snarky, sarcastic Undine making numerous side trips through rehab, welfare offices, and maternity clinics. But the playwright's sense of narrative and character, as well as the clipped and assured direction of Kate Whoriskey, strongly define the journey. In addition, Undine's nasty edge is gradually peeled away to reveal an insecure woman needing help.
There are many juicy monologues and scenes perfect for use in auditions and scene study classes, delivered with bite by a sturdy cast playing many roles. Charlayne Woodard pushes Undine's theatrical personality a bit much at the top of the show, but once she settles down, she engages us. Myra Lucretia Taylor displays an impish wit as Undine's heroine-addicted grandmother. Keith Randolph Smith powerfully puts across a fascinating speech about a mathematical genius who dies just after solving a perplexing problem. Robert Montano displays versatility as Undine's slick husband and her sincere suitor. Stephen Kunken, Melle Powers, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, and Daniel Breaker complete this well-knit ensemble.
Set designer Walt Spangler makes the most of the limited Playwrights Horizons studio space to create Undine's two distinct worlds. The divide is also ably illustrated by Kaye Voyce's costumes, David Weiner's lighting, and Ken Travis' sound.