Familiar review- African wedding in the midwest prompts trouble and discord

9 days ago

The tensions between assimilation and honoring ancestry and tradition provide the subject for Danai Guriras inconsistent but engaging play

Danai Guriras often absorbing, uneven Familiar at Playwrights Horizons is a story about Americans, about immigrants, about assimilation and its discontents. Set on the eve of a wedding, it has something old, something new, something borrowed, and in some enjoyably coarse speech and a brief topless scene, something blue.

The play opens in the Chinyaramwira home, a well-appointed midwestern dwelling, where mother Marvelous( Tamara Tunie) and father Donald( Harold Surratt) are preparing for the nuptials of their older daughter, Tendi( Roslyn Ruff ), a successful lawyer. The Chinyaramwiras are American citizens, originally from Zimbabwe. If there are a few Africanesque sculptures adorning the mantle, they are dwarfed by a massive flatscreen depicting American football.

Marvelous hopes that the bridal is likely to be classy, civilized and modern. Its bad enough that Tendi is involving her evangelical church. But Tendi and her fiance Chris( Joby Earle) have decided to honor Tendis heritage by partaking in a ritual called a roora, in which a groom pays a price for his bride. Traditionally, that price involves livestock. Chris is, as Marvelous says, a the little white boy from Minnetonka, so this ritual is foreign to him. Aunt Anne( Myra Lucretia Taylor ), just off the plane from Zim, has prepared a list of items that the bridegroom should properly provide, frightening her younger sister, Aunt Margaret( Melanie Nicholls-King ). Where do you expect this boy to get cows? Margaret wails.

Familiar is very much a clash of cultures, notions and traditions, centered on a matrimony a common trope of the theater, from Medea to You Cant Take it With You. But existing conflicts is not between Chris and Tendi. Chris is only too ready to accede to Tendis wishings. The conflict is among Tendis family, with Marvelous taking an absolutist line on the benefits of assimilation and her sister Anne arguing just as vehemently for the necessity of honoring ancestry and tradition. Tendi feels caught between these impulses.( The late revelation of a melodramatic secret merely complicates her impressions .)

Gurira, who was born in the midwest and raised during Zimbabwe, clearly shares some of Tendis feelings and under Rebecca Taichmans direction, these elements of the play are finely wrought and personal. Elsewhere the tone is patchier, as is the acting, which shifts between naturalism and comic caricature. Some scenes are written perhaps too broadly( particularly those involving Tendis younger sister and Chriss younger brother) and others too portentously, as when Chris tells Tendi that she is an African woman. And maybe today is the day that you that you face what that really means. There is also a fair-minded, though stagey, determination to give each character his or her own big speech.

Ultimately a much more conventional play than Eclipsed, Guriras other drama already running, Familiar continues her perceptive interest in the shaping forces-out of character, situation and family. Even in its incompatibilities, it suggests that she is a playwright to honor and cherish.

Read more: www.theguardian.com