“I sat there at the end, gobsmacked,” Goyanes says. “I thought to myself, ‘I must put this in my inaugural season at Woolly Mammoth’ — so much so that I went up to Jackie Sibblies Drury after the show and said, ‘Please let me do this.’ ”
Looking back at that time — a dizzying whirlwind of rewrites and rehearsals as “Fairview” premiered at Soho Rep. — Drury remembers that conversation with clarity.
“She, like, made me cry,” Drury says with a laugh. “I and everyone who was working on the show was trying to figure out what the show was. It was really gratifying, for me and for the cast and crew and designers, that someone with her appreciation for theater and her interest in supporting groundbreaking work was excited about the show.”
It wasn’t long before word spread about “Fairview,” which has since been staged in Berkeley and Brooklyn. In April, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. And this week, Goyanes followed through on her vision by launching her first full season in charge of Woolly’s lineup with a Stevie Walker-Webb-directed production of the show.
“Fairview” initially presents itself as a conventional enough family drama. Beverly, a middle-aged African American woman, is frazzled as she prepares to host her mother’s birthday celebration. Adding to the stress: Beverly’s husband is frustratingly little help; her sister knows just how to push her buttons; and her teenage daughter is harboring a secret.
But there’s an uneasiness simmering beneath the surface of “Fairview,” which begins to reveal itself as an examination of how white audiences perceive race. That theme comes to a boil as the second and third acts expand the cast of characters in meta-theatrical ways, subverting storytelling norms and challenging audience members to interrogate their own biases.
“It’s something that’s really out of the box, in terms of the form,” Goyanes says. “This kind of play hasn’t existed.”
To help shepherd a healthy dialogue around “Fairview,” Woolly plans to host post-show conversations in which willing theatergoers can unpack Drury’s play. The conceit adds another layer of engagement to “Fairview,” which packs its brisk 100-minute run time with a slew of weighty ideas.
“Because identity politics is something that a lot of people in our country discuss a lot, and a lot of people in our country don’t discuss at all, some people are really tired of talking about it, and some people are really scared of talking about it,” Drury says. “So I’m hoping that people are able to have a conversation that’s not harming but is honest and able to let people articulate their reality in a way that is essential for other people to hear.”
Although Goyanes succeeded Woolly co-founder Howard Shalwitz as artistic director in September 2018, she inherited most of the 2018-19 lineup from her predecessor. In selecting “Fairview” as the first play of the 2019-20 season, Goyanes believes she has stated her ambition to push forward Woolly’s reputation as a haven for underrepresented voices and “risk-taking, boundary-breaking, form-busting” theater.
“There is a transformative element in it,” Goyanes says of the play. “I can’t think of another theater that would do ‘Fairview’ in this way right now as a season opener to say, ‘This is what we stand for.’”
If you go
Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW. woollymammoth.net.
Dates: Through Oct. 6.