CPH’s “Fairfield” brings chaos to the stage
In Cleveland Play House’s latest show, Fairfield, the small Outcalt Theater transformed into a school, and the audience became students who observed the play’s tense comedic meltdown onstage.
It started when the brightly-clad principal (Nedra McClyde) walked in and clapped for attention. The audience clapped back. In a school assembly about diversity, McClyde stood in the middle of the stage and gradually became more awkward when discussing Black History Month.
“It’s about ignoring skin color,” said McClyde, “by pointing it out.”
However, Fairfield was all about pointing skin color out. Written by Eric Coble, the play opens the 2015 New Ground Theatre Festival, and the plot pits black parents against white parents after racist incidents at school.
And most of the racism came in the form of Ms. Kaminski (Crystal Finn). Finn portrayed the naïve and innocent-looking teacher that the audience loved to hate.
“If you go back far enough, we’re all from Africa,” she said to her class full of students. “In some ways, we should use Black History Month to celebrate the African monkeys coming down from the trees.”
Out of context, it sounds even worse than it did in the play, much like everything the teacher says. Audience members could often be heard sighing after cringe-worthy moments of racist dialogue, coming from Kaminski.
The main conflict of the play centers on a class activity where Ms. Kaminski divides her students into two groups: slaves and slave owners. Problems escalate when a white student, Austin Flemmingsen, calls another student, De’Aunte Stubbs, a nigger and whips him with a paperclip chain.
It is important to note here that the play never shows actual children. Instead, Fairfield interprets all events through the children’s parents and teachers. Of course, by the end of the play, almost all adults have become more childish than the students.
In the climactic end of the first act, Black Panther member Charles Clark (an enraged Bjorn DuPaty) gives a speech at another diversity-focused assembly. “We’ve come a long way,” DuPaty starts out simply, hopefully.
However, the assembly quickly deteriorates with DuPaty’s escalating rage. “You know why [the system] hasn’t changed? Because you haven’t changed,” he yells at the students, then ends the act by yelling out, “Black Power! Black Power!”
But this comes nowhere close to how ridiculous the play’s actual ending is. Fairfield builds up tension and lets it all out in the last scene, during the central event called the “Celebrethnic Potluck.” As the superintendent (Brian Sills) put it earlier in the play, “This was an equal-opportunity cluster fuck.”
Sills’ quip sums up all of Fairfield, and in a good way. Racial issues come up softly, and erupt into total chaos.
You won’t want to miss this kind of craziness onstage. Fairfield runs through May, and tickets cost $15-49.