Theater Review: Fabulation

| Cadenza Reporter
David Kilper | WUSTL Photo Services

Sophomores Ari Scott and Allison Reed in Lynn Nottage’s sharp-eyed satire “Fabulation,” directed by William Whitaker.

Shortly before I left for St. Louis, my parents told me I had their support, provided I did not loiter at home after graduation, waiting for life and employment to happen. The dreaded “boomerang generation,” as the London Telegraph calls it, frightens even the most-confident mothers and fathers. While most would-be Benjamin Braddocks simply lack a sense of direction, Undine, the protagonist of the Performing Arts Department’s latest comedy, returns home under more-desperate circumstances. “Fabulation,” playing this weekend at the Hotchner Studio Theatre, adapts the parable of the prodigal son for today.

The plot of “Fabulation” is straightforward. After her husband leaves her bankrupt and pregnant, Undine (sophomore Allison Reed) must live with her impoverished parents, grandmother and brother (sophomore Diamond Skinner, junior DeMarco Mitchener, sophomore Carissa Ferguson and sophomore Malcolm Foley, respectively) in Brooklyn until her name is cleared. Fourteen years before, Undine scorned her family by declaring that they perished in a fire. Moreover, she returns home impenitent and defiant, proud of her obsession with glamour and appearance. Her morals disturb her family, who expected an apology. Depressed yet stubborn, Undine refuses to repent until diffused by an optimistic former drug addict (junior Chris Kammerer).

Unfortunately, the humor of “Fabulation” compromises its message. The play earns laughter with Undine’s witty asides and observations, reacting to absurdities like her heroin-junkie grandmother, and the confession of a professor hooked on cocaine. Undine’s acerbic tone is derived from her arrogance and embarrassment with her family. This one-dimensional conceit may bring comedy to Brooklyn, but, given Undine’s intelligence, it makes Undine’s slow realization of the error of her ways irritating. Lynn Nottage, the playwright, portrays Undine as a lesson by counterexample, using Undine’s brother to declare, “There is no greater crime than abandoning your history.” Though Undine encounters increasingly ridiculous scenarios, such as a rude bureaucracy, her flaws never complicate, giving an incomplete feeling to her eventual epiphany.

“Fabulation” nonetheless provides excellent entertainment. The acting, strong and believable, transports the audience from Manhattan to Brooklyn seamlessly. Though clearly establishing the importance of family, Undine’s arrogance and fascination with sophistication make it difficult to relate to her as a protagonist. All the same, see “Fabulation” for its examination of morality in the slums and the importance of history.