Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play Fairview is spectacular because Drury knows how to play to specific audiences very well. If catharsis is “the process of releasing and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions,” then I do not believe that Fairview offers a catharsis for every audience member, but rather that the play functions differently for white audience members and audience members of color.
For white audience members, I believe the play’s function is to prevent catharsis. Specifically, I think the ideal white audience member for this play is liberal, aware of social issues and all the “woke” terms, “worldly,” and probably not vigilant in watching for how they systematically and personally hurt people of color in their daily lives. The majority of the theater-going audience is like this, going to see a race play to affirm their “wokeness”, to learn through watching black trauma. This play functions by preventing the catharsis that usually is given to white audience members by transferring the hyper-visibility of the black body on stage to the white body in the seats. Maybe white audience members can find a catharsis in walking to the stage at the end and possibly releasing the shame that this play projects on them. There is certainly a feeling of discomfort and shame that is maintained for white audience members who stay by their seats, for they now have the hyper-visibility that people of color feel always.
Conversely, for audience members of color, maybe this play functions to provide a much-needed catharsis that is not accessible in daily life: the ability to expose white privilege and the hurt that is done through white hands, especially those that believe they are “not the problem.” This play affirms the experiences and thoughts of people of color and allows them the space to speak, exist, and breath without fear of or concern for white guilt and white retaliation. Drury truly knows how to affect her audience.