Last night, I saw Lynn Nottage's play Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine at the Signature Theatre. This exciting production keeps the audience guessing throughout the first act, and finds emotional resonance in the second. You'll want to see it.
Fabulation originally premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 2004. Since then, Nottage has become known for extremely heavy dramas like Ruined and Sweat. This revival at the Signature reminds audiences that it was Nottage's flair for comedy that originally attracted the theatre world's attention.
And that comedy can be wild. In Fabulation, we see a ridiculously successful publicity maven named Undine (played by Cherise Boothe) treat other people abominably, though she is rewarded for it with money, fame, and power. We also learn that Undine is not her real name, but an identity she assumed later in life, even telling people her family had died in a fire so she could break all ties to the past. The name is fitting, since in mythology an undine is a soul-less water spirit that like water is capable of infinite change.
Undine does not get the change she bargained for, though. In the opening scene she finds out that her husband left her and absconded with everything she owned. A visit to the hospital reveals more unpleasant surprises, and soon Undine finds herself living back with the family that supposedly perished in a fire. Her brother's a frustrated poet, her grandmother's a smack addict, but worst of all her parents are so aggressively normal that she doesn't know what to do. An unfortunate encounter with the police then turns her from the apex of success to just another slob trying to navigate the Kafka-esque inanity of "the system."
Boothe does a wonderful job as Undine, but the success of the piece is largely reliant on the strength of the supporting cast. While they are all excellent, I have to single out Mayaa Boateng, who among other roles plays Undine's wacky assistant Stephie, and Dashiell Eaves, who we meet as Undine's accountant, but shines brightest as a drug-addled professor in the second act.