by Beki Pineda
FAIRFIELD – Written by Eric Coble; Directed by Jada Suzanne Dixon. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1224 Washington, Golden) through August 18. Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or MinersAlley.com.
Denver is familiar with the writings of Eric Coble from past performances of his scripts at Denver theatres. Curious Theatre has presented THE DEAD GUY (world premiere), FOR BETTER and BRIGHT IDEAS. The Avenue Theatre did their own production of BRIGHT IDEAS and the Denver Center has presented his adaptation of THE GIVER. Mr. Coble’s script for FAIRFIELD is political incorrectness carried to the nth degree. Everyone in this volatile situation allows their mouths to override their brain. Personal considerations rule over common sense, creating a situation where a childish altercation gets blown out of proportion . . . to greatly comic results.
A first year teacher (Adeline Mann – who looks and kind of acts like the child in The Bad Seed) and a principal with a new assignment in a liberal diverse school (Sheryl McCallum) both use extremely poor judgement in their Black History Month celebration. No matter how Principal Wadley tries to control the situation and head off the disaster in the making, she is thwarted on all sides. This leads to an incident between two first-graders which, in turn, leads to difficulties between the two sets of parents. Which then leads to a succession of confrontations that disintegrate into chaos. The audience finds themselves saying, “Can they say that?” and “Oh, no, you didn’t just do that!” Even the most well-meaning of attempts turns bad. Principal Wadley tries to explain the true meaning of Black History Month in an assembly at school and continues to shoot herself in the foot. “It’s about ignoring skin color. By pointing it out. And celebrating it. Then moving beyond it. In March.” In an effort to get the celebration back on track, she invites a veteran of the civil rights wars to come speak to the students, only to discover belatedly that he was a Black Panther who encourages the elementary students to rise up against their honky teachers.
The Flemmingsen parents are portrayed by Brian Landis Folkins (finally back on a Denver stage) and MacKenzie Beyer. He reacts with macho indignation and male determination to sort things out. She takes a more conciliatory tone and worries about what the other family must be thinking. The Stubbs are given comic life by the always brilliant Kristina Fountaine and Sinjin Jones (you’ll remember them both from DISTRICT MERCHANT). These characters talk one way in the privacy of their homes and another in the public domain of the school . . . until everything begins to break down. Then street talking trash becomes the favored method of communication. The thin veneer of civilized behavior quickly melts away when their kids are involved. Think GOD OF CARNAGE with the race card being played every other speech – both Black and White. And yet these are all basically good caring people who just want what is best for their kids. Just to give you an idea of the extremes to which this set of situations devolves, the theatre had to bring in a Fight Choreographer to stage the last scene!!
What a cast! We have come to know Sheryl McCallum as a talented singer in her recent performances at the Denver Center and Aurora Fox. But her role as Principal Wadley proves she is more than her voice as she brings strength, exasperation and anxiety to her role. Watching her slowly begin to fall apart and finally snap is the greater fun of the show. She is brought to this frantic state of mind by the actions of her brand new first grade teacher, Adeline Mann as Laurie Kaminski, niece of the Superintendent of Schools and an over-enthusiastic educator. In one role-playing exercise she has her mixed race first grade students’ take on the roles of masters and slaves from the Civil War. Need I say more? Adeline’s innocent looks cover a devious mind as she plays both sets of parents against each other in an effort to solidify her own position. Brian and MacKenzie’s characters are so far apart in philosophy that he soon finds himself in agreement with Kristina while MacKenzie and Sinjin find common ground. Each of the characters has an arc throughout the play that seems to ultimately land them right back where they started from. But – oh, the fun of getting there.
In her directorial debut, Jada Suzanne Dixon kept the comedy moving, guided her actors through this mine field of a script, and created an unforgettable production. This is a laugh out loud experience which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. People left shaking their heads and laughing at the absurdity of the situation. But, I hope, went home and started thinking about whether it was all that absurd after all. In the end, the ability to laugh at ourselves and to find common ground in humor can be a great healer. Very subtle, Mr. Coble and Ms. Dixon!!
A WOW factor of 9.5!