Columbia’s MFA Acting production of Lynn Nottage’s Fabulation: or the Re-Education of Undine at the Lenfest Center for the Arts is a masterclass in production design and dual role acting.
Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine by two-time Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage ran this past weekend as a Columbia MFA Acting thesis production. The titular Undine, a highly successful Black publicist, plummets from being extremely wealthy to needing to move back in with her estranged family in Brooklyn after her con-artist husband divorces her and drains her assets while she is pregnant with his child. This situation, albeit melodramatic, is played as a sort of tragicomedy in Fabulation. With her signature vibrant characters and whip-smart dialogue, Nottage, who is currently a professor of playwriting at Columbia, provides an empathetic and hilarious commentary on race and class.
Laura Valenti’s scenic design coupled with Adrienne Miikelle’s lighting design made the visuals of Fabulation the production’s best asset. The stage was obscured by drop curtains that were projected upon with vivid images of Undine’s past, including portraits of her family and the L train hurtling towards Brooklyn. These curtains were strategically removed by actors during transitions throughout the show to reveal a floor painted with criss-crossing newspaper headlines about Undine’s fall from grace. The lighting design shone through especially well during a scene when Undine was in prison and the bars of her cell were conveyed by lights on the floor. The uses of lighting and projections modernized and effectively communicated Undine’s descent, and supported the performances of the actors and the choices of director Tanasia Lewis very well.
Sarah-Michele Guei gives an undeniably impressive performance as the titular Undine. With a first entrance that rivals Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Guei establishes Undine as a powerful woman who is not to be messed with. An interesting directorial choice was seeing Guei get ready in the rafters of the theatre before the show began. As the audience arrived, they were greeted by a moody, bossy R&B playlist and Guei becoming Undine, donning a power suit, a blunt bob wig, and black sunglasses. And while Guei’s performance reflected the deep nuances of Undine, she lacked distinct shifts between her narration and her real-time dialogue. The other characters formed tableaus around her as she monologued extensively to the audience, yet I found said tableaus to be more interesting than Undine’s narration.
Which brings me to discussing the absolutely amazing performances of the rest of the cast, specifically Yvonne Jessica Pruitt. Pruitt and the rest of the cast each played an amalgamation of vastly different roles, all of which were executed flawlessly and with distinct differences. Over the course of the 90 minute runtime, Pruitt played an aristocratic friend of Undine who had a pension for a fake posh accent, Undine’s mother, an inmate who is detained with Undine, a member of Undine’s Alcoholics Anonymous support group, and a friend of Undine’s from middle school. All of these characters had ties to Undine, and Pruitt made each one of them specific and different. She brought humor and empathy to each character, and had great chemistry with her fellow actors. Yvonne Jessica Pruitt is absolutely an actress to watch.
Fabulation was an impressive production that illuminated the themes of Nottage’s script extremely well. It is a part of a series of Acting and Directing theses that are performed by the Columbia MFA program every semester.
Fabulation via Staff Writer Matthew Gay
@Anonymous This was a directing Thesis, Not acting