Barbara & Scott heap praise upon playwright Lynn Nottage and groove on the pizzazz of jazz singer Judy Barnett.
Fabulation displays Nottage's considerable writing prowess. Not only is the play verbally flashy, it also offers a dazzling display of richly created, highly original characters, each of which speaks in his or her own way. These figures populate a barbed social comedy that cuts through the complicated layers of urban African-American life.
Charlayne Woodard has the leading role of Undine, a black woman who has risen to the top of the public relations world in a business of her own creation only to see it come crashing down. Forced by circumstances (and a plot contrivance) to return to her estranged family in Brooklyn, she is further forced to come to terms with her past. Ironically, the production's biggest flaw is the performance of Woodard. She plays Undine so broadly that the character is a walking and talking caricature. Yes, in a sense, Undine is acting the part of a self-created businesswoman, but Woodard goes too far; she never lets us see the human being behind the façade until it's too late.
The rest of the cast is exceptional. Of particular note, Robert Montano plays to perfection the two polar-opposite men who are Undine's love interests. Then there's the knockout versatility of Myra Lucretia Taylor, who runs the gamut from a tough, lesbian prison inmate to a wheelchair-ridden, heroin-addicted grandmother. Most amazing of all, however, is Daniel Breaker's tour de force in a variety roles including Undine's brother, Flow, who has spent at least a decade and a half writing a whacked-out epic poem of uncommon pretension. Breaker's performance is all the more astonishing if you saw his heroic work in the title role of last year's Red Bull production of Pericles.
Except for allowing Woodard to overplay her role, director Kate Whoriskey has given the cast wonderful opportunities to shine; the production's pacing is strong and energetic. Walt Spangler's set design is evocative and amusingly atmospheric, particularly when Undine leaves the business world for the streets of Brooklyn. So, too, Kay Voyce's costumes are colorful and imaginatively playful.
Fabulation isn't as emotionally complex or as dramatically satisfying as Intimate Apparel but it is nonetheless a clear and present declaration that a major new talent has arrived in the American theater.
Barnett Sings and Swings
A distinctive, pleasing sound and a crisp, commanding style mark Judy Barnett as one of New York's most talented jazz artists. Nobody we know can make a tune swing with more pizzazz than this woman.
Barnett recently concluded a series of shows at Dillon's, titled It Might As Well Be Swing and designed as public rehearsals for a forthcoming recording. Made up largely of standards, the show gave audiences the opportunity to hear Barnett perform with a stellar band. True to form, she tossed off all of the songs in the program with a vibrancy that made them entirely fresh. Can't wait for the CD!