Steppenwolf’s Chicago Premiere Comedy
Written by Danai Gurira
Directed by Danya Taymor
Now Playing Through January 13, 2019
Familiar: The Family Bond(age)
By Rick and Brenda McCain
There’s nothing in the world like having a tight-knit family–a strong family bond where you can share your hopes, dreams, and secrets during good times and bad times. There’s also nothing like trying to erase the memory of a family that reminds you that you were living life in bondage. It is said that family secrets will be shared either at a funeral or a wedding, and when the truth rears its ugly head, it is always at the most inappropriate time.
Award-winning playwright and actress Danai Gurira, in her latest play “Familiar,” reveals a charming story about challenges that are starting to plague an immigrant family living in their new world. But things have a way of coming full circle, and the erratic exploration of attaining their family legacy secrets are about to be discovered while preparing for their eldest daughter’s wedding.
Set in the winter in Minnesota, a Zimbabwean-American family is excited about the upcoming wedding of their daughter Tendikayi, played by Lanise Antoine Shelley, who is set to marry a White man by the name of Chris, played by Erik Hellman. While insisting on having a traditional African ceremony for the harmonious occasion, the thread that binds in bringing the family together is quickly unraveling.
Author Gurira, who is a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright, is best known for her role as Michonne in The Walking Dead and, as Okoye, the female superhero in Black Panther. Gurira also paid it forward by teaching playwriting and acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
“Familiar” is a joy-filled comedy with a twist of suspense featuring an all-star Chicago cast. It is funny and fast-paced; however, it’s filled with lots of layers of complex characters who struggle with the way they think and how others may view them, as well as how they choose to deal with their difficulties of retaining, discarding, hiding family secrets, and holding on to what they believe is sacred.
You will experience the great divide as you see the patriarch of the family Cedric Young, who plays Donald Chinyaramwira, wrestle with his decision to continue to live in America in spite of his desires to go back to his homeland. Donald is determined to have a piece of solace away from his home in the form of a picture of his country Zimbabwe, which he is indomitably trying to keep on the living room wall.
His loving, devoted wife, Ora Jones (Marvelous Chinyaramwira), who is exceptional as the matriarch of her family, wants nothing more than to forget her past by making sure that she leaves her family history and legacy far away in another country. So instead of having a picture that conjures up bad memories hanging on the wall, she chooses to have a decorated wreath in the exact spot.
Nyasha (Celeste M. Cooper), Donald and Marvelous’ other daughter (who is superb in this role) is a free-spirit and is longing to know her family culture. She is consistently asking her mother why she hasn’t taught her their native language.
However, a surprise that will unearth the family secrets awaits Marvelous as she anticipates her desires for her daughter’s dream wedding. Her eldest sister Anne Mai Carol, played by Cheryl Lynn Bruce, arrives from Zimbabwe although Marvelous has not invited her and assumed she couldn’t afford a ticket. This sister has a plan of her own.
Director Danya Taymor’s all-star Chicago cast performed flawlessly in this touching production of complex characters. Luigi Sottile, who played Chris’ younger brother Brad, was such a comedic relief in the play, and Jacqueline Williams (Margaret Munyewa), the baby sister, was a pleasure to watch as she tried to keep peace within the family.
Let’s Play “Highly Recommends” that you experience “Familiar,” the heartwarming play with merriment at its core that welcomes you to look inside a Zimbabwean home in America. It showcases the family’s struggles while drawing out healing of the pains and wounds that plague most families. It’s one of the year’s best performances!