Writer: Kyle Pearson
Larger than life characters, sliding set pieces, and a protagonist that can’t seem to catch a break, the University of North Texas production of “Fabulation” is one that had my full and undivided attention the entire story. The production took place in the Studio theatre with a thrust stage (where the audience is on three sides of the performance) allowing the audience to be more engaged. The elaborate use of lights on the characters and also the audience created a great suspension of disbelief for all who were watching. Although the production had its own deal of complications and issues it was overall a great experience. Some specific aspects of this production truly made it unique and standout such as breaking of the fourth wall, and a darker comedic sense. Fabulation is a story that follows Undine and her adjustment to some major changes in life as she finds out her husband has left her and taken all of her hard-earned money with him. Although Undine faces major hardships on her journey that would normally not be funny at all, the use of many comedic surrounding characters provided a darker sense of comedy with a “Laughing at you not with you” kind of feel. Throughout this review I will examine the story portrayed, the set design, the acting, and overall what made this production unique and why one should desire to see Fabulation.
The structure of a production can determine how an audience member will react right from the start. Using a thrust stage can be a risky strategy due to those sitting on the side seating areas may miss crucial information or scenes all together. During the beginning of Fabulation a back-wall is up to establish the location is inside of Undine’s public relations office. During this section of the play the thrust stage was absolutely beneficial, the audience was close and engaged with the actors that were no more than five feet away from the audience themselves. As the play goes on and it is revealed that Undine will be losing her office the back-wall parts in the middle and slides to the side revealing an elaborate set with many levels that was hidden behind the office. For those sitting in the middle section of the audience, there were most likely little to no issues with this scene change. However, for the audience members seated on the side, there were many complications. As the characters moved to higher levels on the set it became harder to see them from the side resulting in two thirds of the audience simply listening to the scene. This problem was not one that was massively impactful to the show’s success due to the cast doing a great job at centering the show in the middle of the audience. The set had a great deal with how the show ran so smoothly, the use of platforms at different heights and the use of carefully placed openings to allow entrances and exits was impressive. The use of levels allowed for certain characters to have an exchange in one place seemingly hiding the dialogue from characters on opposite platforms allowing them all to still be in the same scene, such as when the family is all in the same house but Undine is having dialogue with her grandmother. The set was composed of rusted looking metal and wood to create an old run down look almost built to represent the lower class. The use of this allows the audience to understand where Undine comes from.
Going into this theatre with no past knowledge of the production allowed me to have a clean slate with no biases, I have always been a lover of theatre and feel that I have an eye for productions that truly go above and beyond what the playwright planned. As I saw this production unfold I couldn’t help but fall in love with the dark comedy the show provided. In the same way, I couldn’t help but think about if this is what the playwright, Lynn Nottage, intended. Perhaps Undine’s mismanagement of her life was to be seen as a tragic turn of events causing the audience to crave a happy ending. The director of this specific production, Vickie Washington, took this seemingly serious turn of events and provided many forms of comedic relief allowing the audience to slowly develop a relation and a sense of pity for Undine. The way Washington uses this connection causes the audience to root for Undine, although we laugh at the seemingly downward spiral of her life, we crave to see her get back on her feet which is expressed deeply in act two. Washington was able to involve the audience even further with the extensive use of lighting, whether it be on the cast or the audience themselves, each illumination seemed to involve everyone into the production. The point of the director’s production was to portray the story as realistically as possible. An interpretation Washington used for Fabulation as originally intended from the playwright is the use of a predominantly black cast. The use of realistic dialect and casting caused an informal feel of the play allowing it to run smoother and connect more deeply with the audience. An additional way the director created a close connection between the audience and the characters by positioning the show among the audience. For example, many characters entered from the side or even behind the audience, the incorporation of the tech crew as “movers” when Undine loses her office allowed for a set change to occur with the audience not even being aware it was happening, keeping the audience focused on the story.
A key element to Fabulation’s success is owed to the phenomenal acting displayed. Undine, who was played by Jenna Davis-Jones, delivered a beautiful performance showing a true range of comedic and dramatic capabilities. Although, one person cannot make a show such as Fabulation, the supporting cast surrounding Undine was one of the most entertaining and supporting ensembles I have witnessed. The relation created between the characters and the audience was due to the incredible amount of talent displayed on the stage. The interactions between the characters was natural allowing for the story to flow smoothly. For instance, the relationship between Undine and the counselor she meets created a certain feeling of care that allowed the ending of the play to deliver great emotion.
Many aspects of this production made it unique and contribute to the understanding of theatre as a whole. Fabulation is a prime example at how different theatrical aspects such as elaborate set and light design, a specifically placed production venue, and careful choice of actors and music, can amplify how a show would have originally been performed. However, there is one aspect of the play that carried the most weight and truly resonated. The use of inter-racial casting to provide a predominantly black cast was intentional and is essential to the play’s success. Using a black cast with this specific story represents how black lives are built in this systematic oppression where even Undine who has built her company up from nothing seems to be pinned against the system failing to ever catch a break. I am not sure if it was the way the director altered the show or if it was how the playwright intended; the use of inter-racial casting allowed the show’s hardships to reflect current events in society. Another way Fabulation stood out as a show to remember was how Undine would casually break the fourth wall and address the audience directly. This further advanced the audience involvement and developed a personal connection with the protagonist creating a link between them and the audience. This break of the fourth wall also allowed for comedic relief in what were some dark situations, in addition, it allowed for Undine’s inner thoughts to be clearly expressed to the audience without characters on stage aware of the information.
The show Fabulation is one I will not soon forget, the seemingly tragic downfall of Undine relieved through comedic characters and events was wonderfully put together. I found the extensive use of lights and the thrust stage developed a connection with the audience from the start. The cast had a unique connection which allowed the show to flow smoothly and for the audience to enjoy the emotional rollercoaster that is Fabulation. Although there are no more showings from UNT, I highly recommend keeping this show on your watch list and if you ever see a showing scheduled, seize the opportunity. I commend the cast and crew of UNT’s Fabulation as it was a show that seemed to impact the whole crowd and leave them in awe.
Playwright – Lynn Nottage
Directed by Vickie Washington
Scenic Designer – Donna Marquet
Costume Designer – Amanda Hughes
Makeup Designer – Caitlyn Polson
Lighting Designer – Beks Miligan
Undine – Jenna Davis-Jones
Stephanie – Mariah Fleming
Herve – Cesar Villa
Grandma – Raquel Scaggs