Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is closing its 30th season in top form at Fort Mason’s Southside Theatre with a top-flight production of “Fabulation,” a sharp, funny and unapologetically unsentimental story about a self-centered woman who finds love and family only as a result of losing money and power.
Lynn Nottage, Pulitzer Prize winner for “Ruined,” now onstage across the Bay at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is the author of the edgy morality tale, subtitled “The Re-education of Undine.”
Margo Hall fully embodies the character, Undine Barnes Calles, a self-made, high-powered, African American New York public relations executive who, at the play’s outset, wears designer clothes and jewelry and rudely barks orders to her assistant about the importance of enlisting cream-of-the-crop celebrities for their business.
But those concerns soon become the least of her worries when her accountant gives her the bad news that her husband has disappeared, and emptied their joint bank account in the process. She also learns she’s pregnant.
Left with nothing, she’s forced to move back to the projects, in with the family she disowned 14 years earlier when she graduated from a college and gave herself a new name. Employed as security guards and dealing with drug addiction, they welcome her.
Her journey is further complicated, yet ultimately enhanced, when she’s arrested on drug charges while trying to buy heroin for her grandmother, and placed in a rehab program.
Undine’s transformation is anything but sweet; she’s a tough-minded, tough-talking, educated character who analyzes and comments on what’s going on around her.
Nottage cleverly structures the play to mix Undine’s current situation with flashbacks in which she cleverly narrates details about her past.
The terrific Hall handles the verbiage seamlessly, and she’s joined by a nimble ensemble, each actor playing multiple roles.
Rudy Guerrero does double duty as Undine’s sexy husband Herve, and Guy, the sweet suitor she meets in rehab, while Halili Knox is swell as Undine’s calm mother, and a juicy false friend with fake accent. Carla Punch is effective as drug addled grandma, while Daveed Diggs is funny as Undine’s hip-hop poet brother. Michael Asberry, Britney Frazier and David Westley Skillman round out the versatile cast.
Director Ellen Sebastian Chang keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, complemented by tango choreographed by Pampa Cortes and excellent original music by David Molina. At the back of the stage, blocks of screens with projected images set the scenes nicely.
Not only is “Fabulation” an example of powerful theater, it also represents an upswing for Lorraine Hansberry, which has weathered its share of adversity, including the deaths of founders Quentin Easter and Stanley E. Williams last year.
Before Thursday’s performance, artistic director Steven Anthony Jones greeted the audience, requesting donations of $30 — a dollar to commemorate each year of the troupe’s life. Given the strength of this production, that qualifies as a wise investment.
Presented by Lorraine Hansberry Theatre
Where: Southside Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes March 27
Tickets: $25 to $50
Contact: (415) 345-7575; www.LHTSF.org