UMKC’s newest undergraduate production, Fabulation, Or the Re-Education of Undine, explores whether living your dream life is worth forsaking your roots.
The play follows Undine Barnes Calles (Lauren Moore), a black woman living in Manhattan, as she falls swiftly and unexpectedly from the top of the social ladder back down to her poor Brooklyn roots. After her husband Herve Calles (John Conklin) siphons all her money and leaves her in the night, Undine is left with no choice but to move back in with her parents, brother and grandma at the age of 37. Oh, and she’s pregnant.
We learn through the course of the play that Undine, ashamed of her lower-class family, created a new identity for herself out of college and left that world behind. This “fabulated” life brought her what she thought was satisfaction for 14 years. But when Herve takes away everything she’s built, Undine is left broken and unsure of who she ought to be.
Moore’s portrayal of Undine had a full emotional range. From yelling at the top of her lungs at 100 miles an hour to whispering in morose agony, the undergraduate Moore gave a convincing performance as the 37-year-old woman. Undine’s transformation from selfish and brash to humbled and willing to learn was smooth and believable thanks to Moore.
Conklin’s performance as Herve was short, but his sensual demeanor and Latin accent showed the audience exactly why Undine was attracted to him in the first place. Later in the play Conklin also portrayed Guy, an ex-addict who pursues Undine and who is the exact opposite of the selfish Herve. Conklin’s performance as Guy was sweet, genuine, and likely made half the audience want to marry him.
Fabulation was not without its bumps and bruises, however. The play walked a peculiar line between serious and wacky. One example is when the production, so far serious with some light humor, takes a bizarre turn as an FBI agent (Peter Morgan) barges into Undine’s office telling her he’s investigating her for fraud. Morgan’s gestures and speech were so exaggerated it seemed like they belonged on a Disney Channel show. Whether this was the intention or not is unclear.
Similar moments are when a Yoruba priest tries to swindle Undine out of $1,000 and when Undine and Guy’s support group picks up their chairs and leaves so the two can share a moment. Each of these scenes had an absurdist feel that didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the play. Fabulation is described as a social satire, so if these kinds of moments were more common throughout, they wouldn’t be as jarring. But because they were few and far-between, the scenes took the viewer out of the play for a few moments.
Fabulation asks the audience to think about how they’re living their lives and whether they can truly be satisfied by them. Undine thought she was satisfied with her money and urbane husband, but she found that she was more genuinely happy in the very place she’d tried so hard to escape.