The Indefinable Ingenuity of Lynn Nottage
By Faedra Chatard Carpenter, Production Dramaturg
Brooklyn-born and raised, the playwright Lynn Nottage—informed by myriad experiences such as parochial school, an arts high school, Brown and Yale Universities, and four years as a national press officer with Amnesty International—emerged as a professional playwright in the early 1990s. Since that time, Nottage’s innumerable accolades speak for themselves, among them: two Pulitzer Prizes (one for Ruined in 2009 and the other for Sweat in 2017). A notable asterisk for these achievements: as of this writing, Nottage joins August Wilson as the only other playwright of color to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice, and, moreover, she is the only woman—of any race—to be awarded that distinction.
In other words, Lynn Nottage is a darn good playwright.
Of course, “darn good” is an understatement. It is common knowledge that Lynn Nottage is quite extraordinary. She is not only celebrated for her sharp, resonant dialogue and vivid characterizations, but she is a master of comedy and satire as well as searing, soul-searching drama. Subsequently, she has the uncanny ability to capitalize on both the weight and levity of a given scenario, whether it is inspired by conventional day-to-day routines, anomalous life-or-death predicaments, or the sheer ubiquity of life’s unpredictability. The astounding variety of subjects and styles found in Nottage’s writing has resulted in a recurring refrain among those familiar with her canon. Artists and scholars alike frequently refer to Nottage’s “complexity,” readily observing the absence of an identifiable “writerly voice” among her plays.
This is not to say, however, that Nottage’s works are void of any commonality—quite to the contrary. In an interview with the Washington Post’s Celia Wren, Nottage acknowledged both the diversity and central focus of her writing: “My plays are stylistically different yet thematically similar […] What ties them all together is, by and large, women from the African diaspora, women who, in some regards, are marginalized by the culture at large.”
Certainly, Undine, the central protagonist in Fabulation Or, the Re-Education of Undine, is such a woman. In her attempt to escape marginalization, however, Undine makes choices that bring forth their own set of challenges. What transpires is a journey that not only makes an outrageously entertaining play, but it also provides potent socio-political commentary about our society’s tenuous value systems and the precarious reality of supposed fiscal security.
So, we have all that within this rags-to-riches-to-rags story, plus moments of laughter and despair, as well as the conjuring of African deities, Germanic folklore, Brer Rabbit Tales—and much, much more. Emblematic of her much-lauded complexity, Fabulation Or, the Re-Education of Undine, is a model microcosm of Lynn Nottage’s expansive oeuvre, giving further credence to the fact that Nottage is one of the most well-versed, exciting, and impactful playwrights in our contemporary moment. And that is no understatement.