Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine

by Lynn Nottage

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Lynn Nottage’s play Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine opens with Undine in her office, chatting with a client on the phone. She calls in her assistant, Stephie, and berates her for not finding her a celebrity in time for an upcoming event. They go through several options, but Stephie affirms that she has contacted everyone.

Undine’s accountant, Richard, enters, and they discuss her recent marital situation. Undine explains that she woke up and discovered that her husband, Herve, had left her, illustrating how he methodically moved his clothes out in anticipation. Richard then tells her that Herve has been siphoning money out of her account, that she may have to declare bankruptcy, and that she is broke. Undine is exasperated; she says that declaring bankruptcy would mean the failure of the fourteen years she has spent building her public relations company.

Stephie mentions that someone is at the door, and an FBI agent enters. After confirming Undine’s name, he informs her that while investigating her husband’s activities, they discovered no record of Undine’s existence. Undine, anguished, asks for a moment alone. She addresses the audience, briefly giving a summary of her personal history, from her childhood in Brooklyn to starting her own lavish PR firm. The first scene then ends with Undine collapsing on the floor while grabbing her chest.

At the doctor’s office, Undine believes she has suffered a heart attack, but after a doctor examines her chest, he tells her that she has actually had a severe anxiety attack. Further, to her astonishment, he informs her that she is pregnant.

The scene then flashes back to when Undine and Herve first met; they danced the tango at an extravagant New Year’s Eve party, and Undine immediately fell in love with him.

Undine later discusses her pregnancy with her friend Allison, and while asserting that she has become “some sort of social pariah,” movers come in and disassemble her office. Undine laments the intolerance that society has toward privileged black women, believing that her current financial situation is “karmic retribution.” As Allison exits, a Yoruba priest enters, claiming that Undine has angered the African spirit Elegba and demanding penance for abandoning her family.

Later on, Undine sits at the dinner table with her parents; her brother, Flow; and her grandma. Undine asks her mother if she can stay with them until she “gets back on her feet.” Her mother obliges, but says she has to share a bed with her grandma. As Undine and Grandma converse in the bedroom, Grandma recalls watching Undine leave the house as a teenager; feeling dismayed that she hasn’t returned in fourteen years, Grandma suggests that Undine is ashamed of her family. Then, to Undine’s shock and confusion, Grandma prepares a shot of heroin for herself, revealing that she has been using drugs since her husband died.

Undine’s mother walks in, willfully oblivious to Grandma’s drug use. When she leaves, Grandma asks Undine to buy her more heroin. On the street, Undine approaches a drug dealer and buys drugs. Upon seeing a police car approaching, he throws her the bag and runs away. As the policeman searches her, Undine tells him that the heroin is for her grandmother, but he ignores her and places her under arrest.

In the next scene, Undine is in a prison cell with two other women. One of the inmates taunts her, but the woman backs off when Undine has an emotional outburst. The other woman in the cell, who is there for assaulting a man who was sexually harassing her, is friendlier toward Undine. The last scene...

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of act 1 ends by jumping forward in time to Undine’s trial, during which the judge sentences her to six months of drug counseling.

At the beginning of act 2, Undine is at a compulsory recovery meeting for drug addicts. When Undine is asked to speak, she tells the audience how she came up with her own addiction story. Becoming unexpectedly moved by her fictitious tale, Undine confesses to the addicts in the room that she is pregnant. Guy, “a gentle man, wearing a security guard uniform,” responds that having a kid is a blessing, because it’s the perfect reason to stay clean. Abruptly, he then asks her out on a date, which she accepts.

Some time later, as Undine walks around her neighborhood, she runs into two women she knew from junior high, Rosa Ojeda and Devora Williams. Rosa is on disability, and Devora is a financial planner. When questioned about her name change, Devora, without realizing they are the same person, refers to “the public relations exec” named Undine and expresses sympathy for her current situation. Devora then aggressively hands Undine a business card, mentioning that she should call Devora about her new financial planning program for underprivileged women.

After waiting for two hours at the Department of Social Services, Undine has an unpleasant conversation with an exasperated caseworker. The caseworker’s flippant impatience inflames Undine, who then riles up the others in the room, chanting, “We want the form.” However, this action causes her to end up in the psychiatric ward. Undine waits for weeks to be able to make an appointment with a doctor. At the doctor’s office, the doctor condescendingly tells Undine that because she is six and a half months pregnant, she is too far along in her pregnancy to consider other options. Undine then goes to Duane Reade to buy prenatal vitamins, where she runs into Stephie stocking shelves.

In the kitchen with her mother and Flow, Undine becomes concerned when her mother tells her that her doctor called. Her brother passionately recites a poem—which he refers to as a fabulation—and confronts her about an article in Black Enterprise in which Undine stated that her family died in a fire. In response, Undine claims she was misquoted.

Undine then learns that Herve has been found and visits him in prison. After confirming to him that she is pregnant with his child, Undine furiously tells him that she doesn’t want him in her child’s life. Before being escorted away by a guard, Herve tells her that he pities the child, because he thinks that both he and Undine are ugly people.

At a recovery meeting, Undine sits next to Guy, who offers to be with her in the delivery room when she gives birth. As the other addicts eavesdrop on their conversation, Undine reveals how she shut her family out of her life. In doing so, she expresses her shame and regret, and apologizes for her behavior. To the shock of the other addicts, Undine then confesses that she is not actually an addict. Guy reassures her that he still wants to be with her, and when Undine becomes anxious in anticipation of love and motherhood, he interrupts her with a kiss.

The last scene of the play takes place in the birthing room, as Undine goes into labor with Guy by her side. In fear, she initially refuses to breathe. However, when her mother, her father, Grandma, and Flow arrive, Undine lets go, and her baby is born before the lights fade to black.