With her own Manhattan PR firm, it would be an understatement to say that Undine, the eponymous protagonist of Lynn Nottage's Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, is in Absolutely Fabulous territory. She's so svelte and successful that she can even hector her clients with lines such as, "I'm at the outer limits of my time, you'll have to talk more quickly". If there's no celebrity to hand to endorse a product, she simply creates one.
But then, things start to go wrong, big time. Her Latin American husband absconds, having embezzled all of her hard-won wealth through identity theft. She discovers, to her horror, that she's pregnant. And her freefall to the underclass is all the more swift and precipitous because she happens to be first-generation- educated African-American.
The play is very funny in a manner that sails exhilaratingly close to political incorrectness. Its responsible recklessness of spirit is done handsome justice by Indhu Rubasingham's breezily entertaining production. Like the recent television drama Shoot the Messenger, the play, at times, does constitute a black writer daring to say the unsayable. The difference is that Fabulation is more clear-cut about the distorted perception of its protagonist.
Having fought her way from Brooklyn to Dartmouth College, Undine had overheard snooty comments about her family, who had come for her matriculation. So she excised them from her CV, claiming that they had all died in a fire.
As it charts the descent of Undine (sharply portrayed by Jenny Jules), the play holds nothing sacred apart from honesty. There are hilariously unsentimental scenes with Undine's family that also manage to make a political point. Her parents are both security guards, having failed the entrance exam for the police six times before realising that the county didn't want them to pass it. Arrested while trying to buy heroin for her junkie grandmother, Undine is put into a rehab therapy group, wittily depicted here in all its self-hugging piety. They may be shocked to hear that Undine is pregnant, but they are far more scandalised when she tells them that she is not really an addict.
Fabulation is full of singing, savvy dialogue ("I introduced him to feminism with the back of my motherfucking hand"). Indeed, it's almost overloaded with good lines. But that's a defect that many plays should be so lucky to have.
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