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While I don’t see plays often, I figure why not crack open another section as I try to get out more. Now, focusing on Familiar, as with past Danai Gurira plays, like Eclipse, the focus is strongly about being totally African, yet there is this small desire to look at what American has and does. With this play, though, the characters are in America, naturalized and all, but some, if not most, long for Zimbabwe. Either for what was lost, in terms of disconnect from their culture, or for the home they once knew.
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
Within Minnesota lives the affluent Chinyamwira family. The mother Marvelous (Tamara Tunie) is a well-educated, and likely well-paid chemist; the father Donald (Harold Surratt) is a lawyer with his own firm, and then there are their two children. Tendi (Roslyn Ruff) has followed in her father’s footsteps and has become a lawyer and is touted as well accomplished. This is in stark contrast to Nyasha (Ito Aghayere) who is an artist, the rebel of the family, and perhaps the only one without any sort of Christian faith.
Together, though, alongside Aunt Margaret (Melanie Nicholls-King) and Anne (Myra Lucretia Taylor), they have come together, under Marvelous and Donald’s household, to celebrate Tendi’s impending wedding. Something which brings out secrets, African traditions, and with Nyasha coming from their home country of Zimbabwe recently, what also is brought up is a longing for home. Be it the one known through growing up, or simply home in the sense of a language and culture one can claim as their own and not something they simply assimilated, or were integrated, into.
Cultural Perspective (What You’re Missing): Viewing this as an African-American, it is easy to connect with Nyasha who feels that with her parents not teaching her mother’s tongue, nor actively trying to have her know her roots, she was robbed of quite a bit. Something I think most Black-Americans could easily connect with for we are naturally disconnected with whatever culture we would have had if we knew our true origins. For you can see with Nyasha a sense of accomplishment in going to where her parents were, learning to speak the language with people, seeing her family over there, and more. Yet, there is also this hurt from not knowing who a lot of those people were and feeling like a foreigner in the place where her ancestors are from. Which is due to some painful memories, but also because of the fear that if Donald and Marvelous’ mothers’ tongue was taught to her and her sister, would they sound American? Something which perhaps gives insight as for why some who come from other countries choose to assimilate their children and sometimes leave their past behind and not pass on what they were taught and grew up with.
Cultural Perspective (What You Miss): Yet, at the same time, as we are introduced to Nyasha’s side, so are we given Donald and Marvelous’. Both of which, toward the end of the play, we realize have two stark points of view of home. For Marvelous, home might be where she is born, but it is a sinking ship, a place she escaped to find and do better, which she has, and whatever sense of home she needs comes from her family.
As for Donald, while he does find having his children and sister in law close a reminder of home, Minnesota isn’t it. That place is sometimes just where his wife and kids are, where his law firm is at, and sometimes that isn’t enough. He needs to see his brother, not feel like he ran away from his country during its time of need, and this creates an inner conflict I don’t think often addressed.
Comedic Moments: Between Aunt Anne, and then the two white characters, Chris (Joby Earle), who is Tendi’s fiancée, and Brad (Joe Tippett), who is Chris’ brother, you are going to laugh quite a bit. I don’t have a counter, since I wasn’t originally intending to do an overview/ review of this, but believe me when I say that usually between these three, and with Nyasha jumping in here and there, you are going to get just as much laughter as you get a sense of cultural exposure and drama.
Hackneyed Twist: All was good, fresh, and new until Aunt Anne decided it was time to reveal a secret. One which I’m not going to reveal, but let’s just say it is the type you have probably seen in plays and soap opera a million and one times, and all I could do was roll my eyes through it.
On The Fence
The White Elephant in the Room: Being that the family was formerly political, and Aunt Anne seems to be one of the few willing to address the interracial relationship, I must admit at times I found it odd no one really wanted to speak to a white guy being with Tendi. Which perhaps I only found odd since I’m so used to Tumblr conversations of fetishization, but with only Anne bring it up and everyone else mum, it was hard to say whether everyone just wanted Tendi to be happy, felt comfortable with Chris, or they didn’t want to address the situation at all.
Final Thought(s): Worth Seeing
Danai Gurira continues to display what I’m sure many will find to be a unique voice on the stage. She mixes in the drama and inner turmoil which comes from being an immigrant, or first generation immigrant, alongside laughter, cultural exposure, and a fleeting sense of time. Truly, if a person were to use the word Edutainment, and not gear it towards children, the work of Gurira could make such an adjective used in a broader scope.