Friday, August 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: Fair Son

The Philly Urban Theatre Festival's second year brings "Fair Son," a second production written, directed by, and featuring Kareem Rogers. Like "Twice Loved," last year's Rogers entry, this issues-based living room melodrama skims the surface of a potentially deep pool. But "Fair Son," says Wendy Rosenfield, is half as much fun and even less credible.

Review: Fair Son

By Wendy Rosenfield

The Philly Urban Theatre Festival’s second year brings Fair Son, a second production written, directed by, and featuring Kareem Rogers. Like Twice Loved, last year’s Rogers entry,  this issues-based living room melodrama skims the surface of a potentially deep pool. But  Fair Son — which takes on interracial families, racism,  civil rights, lynching, love and leukemia, tosses themonstage for  an hour or so and watches them scatter — is half as much fun and even less credible.

With a supporting cast that's sincere, if amateurish, Rogers, as patriarch Martin Stewart, brings laid-back levity to his role. His teddy-bear physique and earnest eyes put a spectator in his corner —  though he appears to be roughly the same age as his married attorney son, Malik (Michael Irvin). But while Rogers can charm an audience into overlooking this discrepancy, there’s no hiding his lack of research and simplistic approach to character.

Malik’s white mother Martha (Elizabeth Abate) — get it? Martha Stewart? — marched with Martin in the South as a civil rights-era activist, raised their son, lives with Malik and his African-American wife (Sharifa Patterson), but suddenly reveals herself as a closet racist? Malik has leukemia advanced enough to require a bone-marrow transplant, but no one in his house knows about it? Malik’s best friend Lucas (Garland Overbey) — or maybe Lucas is a co-worker; it’s  unclear — and wife are black, but he doesn’t like to associate with black people?

Meanwhile, Malik, apparently Philly’s “number-one lawyer” (though his area of practice isn’t specified, and he’s not a partner), receives a controversial adoption case — a black mother wants her baby back once she discovers it was adopted by whites (we never learn whether the child is male or female). Despite the case’s contractual obstacles and legal precedents, Malik hopes to prove suburban babies have lower death rates than urban babies, a statistic that has approximately nothing to do with his potential courtroom success.

Rogers seems concerned primarily with black and white, literally and figuratively. Until Malik rejects the white half of his biracial heritage he’s thoroughly unlikeable. Similarly, returning the baby to its birth mother is good, keeping it with its adoptive family is bad. These conclusions are a shame, because Fair Son’s strength lies hidden among its gray areas; here’s hoping that as Rogers develops the piece, he jumps all the way in and isn’t afraid to cloud the waters. 

Through Sunday at the Skybox, Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $15-$20. Information:


About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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