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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 11, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 19
Funny family themes feel Familiar at Seattle Rep
Arts & Entertainment
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Funny family themes feel Familiar at Seattle Rep

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

FAMILIAR
SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
(WITH THE GUTHRIE THEATER)
Through May 27


There is something very familiar about the incisively-written, almost brand new (2015) Zimbabwean family wedding play, Familiar, now at the Seattle Rep. Clearly, it's not the Zimbabwean portion, since that is not a culture we've seen on stage here in Seattle. That is a refreshing aspect, even as the accents present a challenge for audience members not so used to the musical cadence of 'Zim'-inflected English.

What is familiar about the story are the many ways families fight, disagree, have secrets, and display their love and affection for one another when all is said and done. If you have heard that this story is about a Zimbabwe-American woman (Shá Cage) marrying a 'white' American man, you might think you're about to see strain about race. However, the Chinyaramwira family of Minnesota does not, apparently, have any qualms about Chris (Quinn Franzen) joining their family.

The larger struggles between Donald (Harvy Blanks) and Marvelous (Perri Gaffney) concern their difficult relationship with their country of origin, Zimbabwe, and whether they should have kept closer ties rather than become so Americanized and rejecting. As the pre-ceremony rehearsal dinner looms ever closer, the unexpected arrival of Marvi's sister, Anne (Wandachristine), who has continued to live in Zimbabwe and essentially 'keep the home fires burning,' puts more pressure on their conflicted feelings.

Sister Anne is to perform a custom called 'Roora' which is a marriage practice of the Shona of Zimbabwe, the tribe that the family is from. Tendi, the bride, really wants to bring some of her native roots into her wedding, which is apparently devoid of any specific Zimbabwe references otherwise. But she and Anne begin to have some tension over timing, as Anne decides that the Roora can take as much time as it needs to. Marvi thinks the entire idea is ridiculous, having embraced the Americanized Christian wedding ceremony.

Since the Roora includes a negotiation over bride price, familiar to many cultures world-wide, Anne demands that Chris find a surrogate negotiator and he brings forward his little brother, Brad (Michael Wieser), an Army vet who doesn't quite know what to do with his life.

Playwright Danai Gurira doesn't hang the character out to dry, and gives Brad (through a genial and generous performance by Wieser) a fun flirtation with Tendi's younger sister, Nyasha (Aishé Keita). Nyasha longs to be a professional musician but feels the disapproval of her family and the diminution of her status as soon as she walks through the family door.

This is a very funny play, with lots of sharp wise-cracks and fast interplay among family members. Director Taibi Magar keeps the rhythm moving, even as sometimes the overlapping dialogue makes what's happening hard to follow. Still, the sheer number of familiar, even stereotypical, elements help the audience catch up. Donald and Marvi reflect familiar tropes of long-marrieds, younger sister envy shows up between Tendi and Nyasha and also between Marvi and Anne's youngest sister, Maggie (Austene Van), even though she is a sophisticated and accomplished woman.

There are money issues, and assimilation issues, and a lightly-touched-on history of Zimbabwe political oppression. Devotion to Christianity is present, as Tendi and Chris have vowed to abstain sexually until after the marriage, though there is a moment we're not sure they'll succeed.

The cast is wonderful, most new to Seattle stages, though Keita has been demonstrating her excellent talent in multiple recent productions and should be watched for in future. The women of the cast are all powerful and commanding in their own ways.

The cast's commitment to the work raises the production to a high level of gloss, supported by a gorgeous upper-middle-class living room set by Adam Rigg, sumptuous costumes by Karen Perry, subtle lighting by Tom Mays, and choice sound moments from Scott W. Edwards. The sophisticated performance had the audience on their feet at the end.

For more information, call 206-443-2222 or go to www.seattlerep.org.

Discuss your opinions with SGNCritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters. More articles can be found at MiryamsTheaterMusings.blogspot.com.

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