Sometimes it seems that even with the best laid plans, the potential for drama is always there…lurking around the corner. There is no event more ripe for family drama or comedic interactions than a wedding; the stress of it all going well, the blending of new families, new traditions, and dealing with all those relatives. FAMILIAR, a now playing at the Old Globe through March 3rd, mines the comedy and the drama of the events and tackles the subjects of family, heritage, clashing cultures, and those family secrets that inevitably come to light at the worst possible times.
Marvelous (Cherene Snow) and Donald (Danny Johnson) are the parents of the bride Tendi (Zakiya Young). As the play opens Marvelous has everything running smoothly, as she checks to make sure every detail is perfect, and lays out platters of food for everyone to eat as the rehearsal dinner quickly approaches.
Younger daughter Nyasha (Olivia Washington) has just returned from a trip to Zimbabwe and is full of excitement and pride for the heritage and ancestral homeland. As she excitedly tries to tell her parents about her experiences, she questions her parents on their lack of connection to their place of birth and why they didn’t pass on the language and traditions to their daughters.
Marvelous, a biochemist and Donald, a partner in a law firm have worked hard for their life, careers, and home in America and have little time for their aspiring singer-songwriter daughter’s inquiries. Though Marvelous does have enough time to compare her to Tendi who not only is getting married but is also a successful lawyer following in their Father’s footsteps and inquiring when Nyasha is going to get a real job.
Marvelous’s sister Margaret (Ramona Keller) is there and she is happy to talk about Zimbabwe and encourage Nyasha in her musical pursuits. She may have an advanced degree but that doesn’t shield her from some cutting remarks from her sister, though the glass of red wine in her hand seems to help.
When fiancé Chris (Lucas Hall) arrives everything seems to be going as planned until the surprise arrival of Marvelous’s older sister Anne (Wandachristine) arrives. To honor the Bride’s heritage, Tendi and Chris have invited Anne all the way from Zimbabwe to perform a traditional “bride price” ceremony.
This surprise visitor and ceremony doesn’t sit well with Marvelous – “You want this little white boy from Minnetonka to bring us some cows?” she asks Anne incredulously.
As the entire family debates whether or not to participate, long buried information starts to come to light and it’s clear that by the end of this exchange this family will have changed in more ways than one of them getting a new last name.
Snow is regal and commanding as Marvelous, who though may have a tough exterior proves she has a softer side that has guided her decisions since coming to America. Johnsons is an affable Donald, a loving Father and husband, if seemingly non-confrontational for a successful lawyer.
Young and Hall are excellent as the soon to be newlyweds dealing with a lot of new information, and Washington brings vibrancy as Nyasha. Keller is brings warmth as Margaret and Wandachristine brings the fireworks as Anne, a character as outspoken and brash as Marvelous is elegant and restrained.
The confrontations grow in weight as the pay goes along, but play is lightened considerably by the strong comedy current that is woven throughout. This comedic element is heightened even more when Chris has to call in his brother Brad (Anthony Comis) to come and help represent him in the ceremony to follow tradition.
Written by actress and award winning writer Danai Gurira, the play looks at cultural identity and differences, how the familiar can suddenly seem so different, and how all of that can be found within generations of the same family.
With sharp and engaging dialogue and tight direction from Edward Torres this play builds to a climatic revelation. The tone of the first act does seem to take a hard turn into the more serious second act, with reveals that border on melodramatic. But the complex characters and the clever dialogue keep the play moving even as it ventures into more dramatic territory.
Scenic design by Walt Spangler is a handsome two story home by; one filled with a comfortable recliner, an overstuffed couch, and is familiar enough to recognize as the home of people who are succeeding at living the American Dream.
As Shakespeare once wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” FAMILIAR proves that though getting to the altar may not have the smoothest path for this particular couple, but it certainly is the more thought provoking and entertaining one none the less.
FAMILIAR is playing at The Old Globe through March 3rd, 2019. For ticket and showtime information go to www.theoldglobe.org