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From penthouse to poorhouse: ‘Fabulation’ tells riches to rags story

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
From penthouse to poorhouse: ‘Fabulation’ tells riches to rags story
Lyndsay Allyn Cox as Undine. PHOTO: MARK S. HOWARD

The classic rags-to-riches trope gets spun on its head in “Fabulation, or, The Re-Education of Undine,” playing at Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Oct. 9. Here the protagonist Undine has everything she’s ever wanted — a powerful job, fabulous wardrobe, handsome husband —but when her husband leaves her and steals their fortune, she has to learn to navigate a life she never expected.

Written by Lynn Nottage, who has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, and directed by the local theatrical force Dawn Simmons, the co-founder and artistic director of Front Porch Arts Collective, the show is stacked with impressive talents. That roster is rounded out with the seasoned actor Lyndsay Allyn Cox, who takes on the character of Undine.

Brittani Jenese McBride (left) and Lyndsay Allyn Cox. PHOTO: MARK S. HOWARD

Simmons says, “I love the way Lynn Nottage stacks the obstacles, taking our hero from that deluxe apartment in the sky to the projects. I direct a lot of ‘hero’s journey’ plays. I love them because they remind me there is so much still to learn, so much to uncover and kick around and examine in this fascinating world we live in.”

The show is particularly poignant in a time when “hustle culture” still reigns and every social media app encourages users to start businesses and prioritize wealth and success. There’s nothing wrong with success, but as Undine learns, it must be measured with humanity and kindness to be worthwhile.

The cast of “Fabulation, or, The Re-Education of Undine.” PHOTO: MARK S. HOWARD

In her sprint for success, especially as a Black woman in a prejudiced world, Undine shed all her ties to her family and her former self. Simmons, in an interview, noted that this attitude is rooted in the idea that people of color need to “transcend” their race to be successful, that they need to leave that piece of themselves behind to be accepted. What Undine learns as the production goes on is that she can’t escape her past and her identity as effectively as she thought, and perhaps she shouldn’t. When her marriage and high life falls apart, it’s back to that family and those origins that Undine goes.

The questions asked in “Fabulation” are those that everyone has to grapple with at some point in life. “Can you outrun your past? Are you in control of your future? We see what we want to see and believe what we want to. We are the stories we create for ourselves,” says Simmons. “So what happens when those stories are blown up? How do we understand what’s real about ourselves, the world, and our place in it?”