To be sure, the family in Familiar does not look like mine. The parents, Donald (Harold Surratt) and Marvelous (Tamara Tunie), emigrated from Zimbabwe, and made a life in Minnesota, where their children were born. (By contrast, my family is Caucasian, and we've been New York natives since my great-grandparents' generation.) Their younger daughter, Nyasha (Ito Aghayere), has just returned from a trip to "Zim," as the character call it. Her older sister, Tendi (Roslyn Ruff), is about to get married—to a white Christian, Chris (Joby Earle). The family, including Marvelous's sisters, Margaret (Melanie Nicholls-King) and Anne (Myra Lucretia Taylor), and Chris's brother, Brad (Joe Tippett), is gathered for the wedding.
We all have families, both the one we're born into and the one we make, so we're certainly all familiar with the intra-family politicking, pecking order, and other clan-based relationship types. Not all of us are immigrants or the children of immigrants, but the assimilation struggle, the battle to adapt to your surrounding while holding on to your roots, is certainly recognizable.
Of course, the beauty is in the details. Gurira (Eclipsed) has written a wonderful, universal play. The themes she explores in Familiar are timeless, yet it's the details about this family and their roots (love the scenic design by Clint Ramos) that distinguish it from other family dramas. (I call it a drama, but laughs abound. Direction is by Rebecca Taichman (Stage Kiss)) This is particularly noteworthy now, as many of the plays I've seen recently have felt unremarkable. Prodigal Son, for example, seemed like just another coming of age story.
Familiar pops. The performances are stellar, and Gurira's writing is smart. In lesser hands, this could come off simply as a writing exercise, or a play Gurira wrote to exorcise something from her past. Instead, it's a modern classic.
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