Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s Fabulation or, the Re-Education of Undine is playing at the Strand Theater in Hamilton-Lauraville and, lucky for you, there’s one more weekend to see it. This production of Fabulation, showcasing a bunch of kickass Baltimore women, presents an opportunity to celebrate Women’s History Month while supporting a local theater.
Fabulation is the story of Undine Barnes Calles, née Sharona Watkins, who American Dreamed herself all the way from Brooklyn’s Walt Whitman housing projects to a fancy life as a chic PR executive with a suave, Argentinian husband. Disaster strikes when said husband absconds with her heart and all her money, leaving her penniless and pregnant. Undine returns to Brooklyn and the family she unceremoniously abandoned on her road to “success.” In prodigal child fashion, she is welcomed back by longsuffering parents and a slightly grumpy brother who never strayed from home. Her relationship with her ailing grandmother develops in unexpected ways, as does her relationship with the criminal justice system. Like real life, everything and nothing has changed in the 14 years she’s been gone.
The Strand is Baltimore’s only brick-and-mortar theater solely presenting works written by women artists. Executive Director Elena Kostakis makes the Strand a welcoming home for female creatives like Director/Sound Designer Christen Cromwell, who led the team that staged Fabulation. Dana Woodson plays the titular Undine Barnes Calles. In the only non-doubling role, Woodson shows Undine’s emotional journey as she reassesses her notions of success, family, and identity. Aladrian C. Wetzel adeptly plays Undine’s Mother, an inmate, a childhood friend, and an addict at a 12-step meeting, but particularly shines as Undine’s snooty society friend, Allison. Leiah Poindexter skillfully performs numerous roles, notably perky PR minion Stephie; Undine’s childhood friend, Rosa; and a touchingly vulnerable young pregnant woman at a clinic. Scene-stealer Kay-Megan Washington transforms between multiple roles, making each a distinct and memorable character. Favorites include her turns as Undine’s Grandma and as a Social Services Caseworker.
Fabulation also gives the doubling male actors a chance to show their range, and none does so better than Albert Omololu Collins. Collins’s Hervè is a scoundrel and a cad, but he’s so smooth, you can see how he once had Undine laughing coquettishly at his jokes. Impressively, with a quick-change, Collins becomes the reliable Guy, whose down-to-earth kindness is more genuinely charming to the evolving Undine.
The production team for this show is also predominantly female, and includes a stage manager (Mia Awad) and costumer (Caroline Tyson) who are still at university. In her Director’s Note, Christen Cromwell thanks sole male tech team member David Shoemaker for her “blackity black set.” In addition to being a talented scenic designer, Shoemaker is Managing Director of Fells Point Corner Theatre. Cromwell explains her set decision, writing, “The set is black because: it’s Black History Month, this cast is super black (love ya, Nate!)*, and there is no darker place than the mind of someone struggling to become the person she wants to be.” [*Nate Krimmel, the one non-POC actor in the ensemble].
I am a 50-year-old white woman from the suburbs. Fabulation is the story of a 37-year-old black woman from the projects. How did that go? On the whole, well. I’d be lying if I denied that there’s more to Fabulation than I get. There’s a throughline about Br’er Rabbit, for example, that I kinda get, in that I am aware of Song of the South and the repackaging of the African-American experience by and for white people, but I don’t get it in my bones like I imagine black people do. And there are likely references so outside my context that I didn’t even notice them. Still, it’s a mistake to avoid art because you might not get everything. Facts are individual; emotions are universal.
There are things in Fabulation that I don’t have apples-to-apples life comparisons for. I’ve never had to worry that I wouldn’t get an interview because the name on my resume sounds “ethnic.” But I do understand the impulse to recreate yourself, for whatever reason; to dream bigger than might be deemed appropriate for your station. I’ve never dealt with unhelpful Social Services people, but I have had to navigate nonsensically complicated bureaucracies that felt like they were stacked against me. I have a family and a place I’m from and a life I’ve made as an adult and challenges and joys and loves. We all do. Theater helps remind us of our commonalities, even when it’s showing our differences.
Fabulation or, the Re-Education of Undine at The Strand features Dana Woodson as Undine Barnes Calles; Aladrian C. Wetzel as Mother/Allison/Devora/Inmate/Addict; Nate Krimmel as Richard/Accountant/Doctor; Albert Omololu Collins as Hervè/Guy/Lance; Grant Chism as Father/Judge/Yoruba Priest; Juan Hunter as Flo/Agent Duva/Addict/Dealer; Leiah Poindexter as Stephie/Rosa/Counselor/Young Pregnant Woman; and Kay-Megan Washington as Grandma/Dr. Khdair/Inmate/Caseworker.
The Production Team is Director/Sound Designer Christen Cromwell, Stage Manager Mia Awad, Set Designer/Builder David Shoemaker, Lighting Designer Amy E. Rhodes, Costume Designer Caroline Tyson, Intimacy/Fight Choreographer Mallory Shear, Press Photographer Shealyn Jae, and Graphic Designer Mika Nakano. Nakano is a talented actor in her own right, but also creates beautiful program covers and graphic design. Her art is fire.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission.
Fabulation or, the Re-Education of Undine closes this Sunday, March 8, 2020. It’s playing at The Strand Theater Company – 5426 Harford Road, in Baltimore MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 874-4917, or purchase them online.