Thursday, February 7, 2019

Old Globe’s “Familiar”: Clashing Cultures In A House Divided Against Itself.

Its another another form of Culture Clash, this time Zimbabwe is at its center.

The Old Globe Theatre is currently staging Tony Award Nominee Danai Gurira’s “Familiar”, in what could be a sprawling tale from Minnesota to Zimbabwe if it wasn’t limited to the spatial and beautifully appointed, knick-knack heavy Craftsman Home of the Chinyaramwira Family, whose roots by half of the clan are solidly planted in Zimbabwe, while the other half…well, you get the picture.  
Anthony Comis, Ramona Walker, Cherene Snow, Zakiya Young, Danny Johnson. Wandachristine, Lucas Hall
Looking in from the outside one might assume that the family living in this big important house has lot’s going for it and it does. Marvelous Chinyaramwira and her husband Donald are upper mobile African-American’s, both with impressive credentials completely submerged in Americana.

Marvelous (a focused, determined force with which to be reckoned Cherene Snow) is a PhD in research-micro-biology and from the looks of the food coming from the kitchen is a great cook and baker. She is also a loving, but tough taskmaster who, at the center of her family, is a no nonsense mom who works hard on being American.

Cherene Snow and Danny Johnson
Her husband Donald (a perfectly suited Danny Johnson) is a partner in a successful law firm. When we first meet up with him he is unsuccessfully putting up a map of Zimbabwe over the fireplace resting over another piece of artwork. Marvelous takes it down; he puts it back up. He’s more complicated in his silence, and less verbal than the rest his family.

Marvelous’ younger sister Margaret (a zinger dropper Ramona Keller) or Maggie is a PhD in geology. She too was born in Zimbabwe and immigrated to this country with her middle sister and brother-in- law to avoid more bloodshed, having lost another sister in the revolution.

She drinks too much, and has much to say about the family’s coming and going but is in some ways a neutralizer. We later learn shares a family secret with her sister and brother-in-law.

Ramona Keller and Zakiya Young
The couple’s oldest daughter Tendikayi or Tendi  (beautifully nuanced Zakiya Young) is a successful attorney engaged to lily white no clue Chris (handsome and attentive Lucas Hall whom we have seen in several Old Globe productions over the years.).

Chris is a devout evangelical Christian who spent time in Africa working for a non-profit. Both bride and groom are devoted to Chris’ evangelical leanings and have decided not to have sex before the ceremony. WOA! WAIT! 

The wedding will not take place in her family’s Lutheran Church setting but in Chris’ place of worship, setting off a firestorm of sorts from her mother. Chris is charming and agreeable to anything Tendi wants. They both agree to integrate her cultural traditions into the wedding ceremony.

Anthony Comis, Lucas Hall, Ramona Keller and Wandachristine
Younger sister Nyasha (free and easy Olivia Washington), is still deciding if its yoga or feng shui that she is most interested in. She just returned from a trip to Zimbabwe and is ready to adopt several new traditions into her life with her newly acquired traditional drum that she strums a melancholy tune,  “Familiar”.

She sets off a string of circumstances leading up to the family’s lack of ownership in their history and questions why her parents show no interest in or taught them anything about their ancestral past. Like so many other second generation American’s, most energy by their parents is spent on climbing the social ladder to success rather than delving into the past.  

Zakiya Young and Lucas Hall
It all sounds soo American Dream worthy. But be weary of what we don’t see. Beneath the surface the ground is bubbling. Tendi and Chris are just coming by to meet with the parents to discuss their wedding plans and then head off to a rehearsal dinner. Things appear pretty ‘normal’ but high -strung given the fact that a wedding will soon take place. This is a case of the duck looking calm (as are the major characters) but under water he is paddling like hell. 

Talk has it that no one from Tendi’s family is in the wedding party. The surprise of the evening, though, is that Anne (a stern, immovable force Wandachristine), Marvelous’ elder sister from Zimbabwe will be there to perform a home grown Zimbabwean custom or roota where the groom and his intermediary buy the bride from her family making her his possession.

That might be OK in Zimbabwe but in the freezing cold of Min. Marvelous will have none of it. That she and her husband are now and have been, for year’s, citizens of this country, she's not going back.  Their two daughters are native born and raised. She is not looking to or going back to her roots, or a roota ceremony, not now, no how!

The story plays out between those longing for the past of their youth, their civil wars and their revolutions and those anchored in the present where the past has no place for them and long held secrets were thought to be put to bed once and for all.

Danny Johnson and Lucas Hall
It’s a serio comic delve into a home grown culture clash, not just between back and white, but between past and present and future and while the playwright has set up for laugh out loud comedy, as when Chris and his brother Brad (the comic wild card Anthony Comis) who comes to the rescue, are on their knees offering money to Anne to buy back Tendi; or when Marvelous answers the phone, knowing its Chris’ mother, her ‘Hellooo’ sounds a bit over the top, some serious family business is at work here.  

The overall excellent cast is in equally excellent hands with director Edward Torres and voice and dialect coach Nathan C. Crocker shaping up all the forces with which to be dealt.

The staging is near perfect in the sprawling place they call home and the audience is drawn in hook, line and sinker, maybe even taking sides, as Torres’ fast paced first act speeds by seamlessly setting us up for something to shatter our good natured mood when we return from intermission.
Cherene Snow (on stairs) Zakiya Young and Olivia Washington 
From the expansive and detailed set (Walt Spangler) to the pop out Zimbabwean dress worn by Anne (Alejo Vietti), to Jason Lyons lighting and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s sound design no stone is left unturned in this multi faceted drama laced with humor, wit and pathos and where customs, rituals and values come face to face in this cultural clash of traditions, that until recently were put on the back burner to fade and die due to lack of interest.  

To Ms. Gurira's credit she manages to bring everyone back into the fold and whatever the path, ‘familiar’ or not, divided or not, she knows it will be OK.

Two thumbs up!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 3rd
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 2363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92123
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: T.J. MacMillan


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