From the Back to the Middle and Round Again: “Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine”

Lyndsay Allyn Cox as Undine. Photo by Mark S Howard.

Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Written by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Dawn M. Simmons
Intimacy consultant: Ted Hewlett
COVID-19 safety officer: Emily Collins
Online Playbill

Sept. 16 – Oct. 9, 2022
140 Clarendon St
2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02116

Approximately 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Review by Kitty Drexel

“In literary criticism, the term fabulation was popularized by Robert Scholes, in his book The Fabulators, to describe the large and growing class of mostly 20th century novels that are in a style similar to magical realism, and do not fit into the traditional categories of realism or romance.”

BOSTON — An undine (or Ondine) is a mythological water elemental out of the European tradition. The Swiss alchemist Paracelsus wrote of a nymph who became human out of love for a mortal man. Without love, she has no soul and cannot live on land. Undine must take care for she will die if her lover is unfaithful. 

An undine stands as a modern metaphor for the woman who cannot let go of love. Her relationship is over, her lover moved on, but the undine will not move on. There’s the possibility of a happy ending though – Undine can go home if she kills her boyfriend before he cheats

Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine puts Undine (Lyndsay Allyn Cox) at the top of her game. She has everything: a wildly successful boutique PR firm in Manhattan, a handsome husband Hervé (Jaime José Hernández) with a fancy accent to match his l’accent aigu, a devoted assistant (Brittani Jenese McBride), a full bank account, a bougie accountant (Barlow Adamson), and more social currency than Wendy Williams. Or, she does until Hervé disappears with his clothing and every last penny she has. And, she’s reluctantly pregnant. 

Undine has no choice but to stifle her pride, smother her standards, and move in with her family in Brooklyn. Undine must navigate social services, the street corner at midnight, and the life that continued to exist after Undine left it behind. Damon Singletary, Dayenne CB Walters, Shani Farrell, and Sharmarke Yusuf play family, friends, and other characters. 

There is a lot about the Lyric’s Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine to recommend itself. From its design to its cast, all of the elements of this show come together to make a top-notch production.  

The first thing the audience sees is the Pop art-inspired scenic design by Jenna McFarland Lord. Black and white wall and floor panels resemble the panels in a graphic novel. McFarland Lord’s set is a transformer; its panels reveal hidden truths when Michael Clark Wonson’s hyperrealistic lighting design shines upon it. 

The cast. Photo by Mark S Howard. Lots of reds, pinks and umbers in the costume design that pop. 

Black shading marks contour every prop in the show. Wine glasses, chairs, a teak desk, and even iPads and iPhones look like they’ve received a blessed touch from new Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein. These design flourishes by Lauren Corcuera heighten the fabulation of the play. 

Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s outfits in the first scene made me envious of the wardrobe department. Brittani Jenese McBride looks fashionably chic in her sneaker heels and mesh, white coat. Shani Farrell is radiant in her orange floral dress with a matching hair scarf. Other costumes, while not as fashionable, retain a style that supports and reveals the characters’ personalities. They are distinctly of the play’s reality and not of ours. 

Content warning: Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine contains references to gun violence and drug abuse. It discusses addiction and why people become addicts. It may trigger some audience members but perhaps not for obvious reasons. The abuse isn’t the trigger;  the shared experience of addiction by so many humans is. (Don’t let your empathy crush you.) 

Nottage gets the complete and utter loneliness addicts frustratingly correct. She pries apart the anxiety and depression that follows drug abuse like a feral dog after lame prey. It’s an abject loneliness that non-addicts cannot pierce. Undine has panic attacks. She uses her own language to describe her mental illness, but her words take on a universal quality when Lyndsay Allyn Cox says them. 

Speaking of Lyndsay Allyn Cox, she is a force to reckon with as Undine. She exudes strength as an actor and destitution as a character. Where ever Nottage takes Undine, Allyn Cox adapts with abandon. Undine has run out of money, hope, and fucks. Allyn Cox plays Undine’s scarcity of resources with exuberant elasticity. 

Jaime José Hernández and Sharmarke Yusuf chew the scenery and touch our hearts. They both play multiple roles (sometimes in quick succession) and each is memorable. Even Yusuf’s smarmy FBI agent is sincerely played; he is playing a pig after all.  

Alas, our Undine does not adhere to the rules of the Swiss Myth. She loses the life she so carefully constructed for herself; she suffers a societal death and must spend her new life in existential agony. Rebirth can be agonizing; Living can be worth the pain. Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine proves that even cold reality can have its magical moments. 

Did you know that Lyndsay Allyn Cox is a kick-ass movement teacher and yogi? To get your tickets to the gun show, click here to discover where Allyn Cox teaches or to arrange a private class. 

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