What “Fairview” Means to Tony Morton

March 9, 2023

Tonight, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fairview” opens at Millikin’s School of Theatre and Dance, under the direction of Professor Tony Morton.

“I’ve read a lot of plays in my 18 years as a theatre educator, and of course as a student,” said Morton, an assistant professor of theatre and dance. “I haven’t laughed out loud reading a play like this in years, and I don’t think I’ve ever gasped out loud like ‘Fairview’ made me gasp the first time I read it.”

“Fairview” is a racial satire surrounding a Black family attempting to prepare for a birthday dinner, with each of the play’s three acts becoming increasingly absurd.

“The play follows what seems to be a normal sitcom family that happens to be black, and then it goes off the rails,” Morton said. “Act I is this sitcom episode. Act II we hear these disembodied voices of white people watching this Black family, and they’re commenting on Black life and other races and what it means to them. Act III, to not spoil anything, it gets crazy. But in essence, the play is about: whose story is it to tell? Whose narrative is it to control? And ultimately, the people that think all races are the same: would you actually change places with me?”

Araceli Hughes, who plays Jasmine in “Fairview,” hopes the production will spark important discussions about prejudice and casual racism.

“It’s definitely a show that’s always gonna be a conversation,” said Hughes, a senior acting major. “Because it’s very controversial, both from a Black perspective and a white perspective. It’s something that has to be talked about, I think. We’ll see the impact it makes on Millikin. I think for the student body, it’ll be a really good show . . . You’re gonna have to think about a lot of things, and you’re gonna have to maybe think of parts of yourself that you didn’t know were hurting the Black community.”

Prof. Morton hopes that by producing important plays like “Fairview,” Millikin can introduce students and locals alike to works they would not have otherwise found.

“My hope is that it shows that there are some really interesting plays out there, and Millikin is doing them,” Morton said. “This play won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 . . . I just want the greater Decatur area and our students to know that we aren’t just working on little fluff pieces. We’re working on serious plays that deal with serious topics, difficult material. Things that are gonna challenge our actors, things that’ll challenge our designers, and things that’ll challenge our audience.”

Prof. Morton has also made it a priority to ensure that his actors are heard and made to feel comfortable, in order to service the play.

“He definitely had the finished product in his head before we started rehearsing,” Hughes said. “He knows how to work with actors, which is the great part. He’s not just directing, sometimes he’ll come on the stage and show you, and that is very interesting because he knows how to push back when he needs to and knows how to be 100% with the actors when he needs to. I think he’s a great director. It’s been fun.”

“Fairview” will run from March 9-12 in the Virginia Rogers Theatre at the Center for Theatre and Dance. Performances are 7:30 p.m. March 9-11 and 2 p.m. on March 12.

“It’s gonna be a great show,” Hughes said. “Just be prepared to be shocked a little bit, in a good way.”

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