Friday, October 23, 2009

All In The Family

One of the characters in Broke-ology comes up with that word which refers, as one might guess, to the science of being broke. One doesn't need a degree in broke-ology to connect to the play, which is above all else about family and the love and sacrifices that come with it.

Broke-ology by Nathan Louis Jackson is currently playing at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center through November 22. The play begins in Kansas City in 1982, where William (Wendell Pierce) and Sonia King (Crystal A. Dickinson) are expecting their first child and planning out their lives together. The majority of the play takes place in the present. Sonia has since passed away and their two sons, Ennis (Francois Battiste) and Malcolm (Alano Miller), are grown. Malcolm has recently moved back to Kansas City from Connecticut, where he went to college, to start a job at the EPA. Ennis works at Lord of the Wings (it might be a good marketing strategy to sell those T-shirts at the show) and has a baby on the way. Malcolm's return is welcome to Ennis as an extra hand in taking care of William, who is suffering from multiple sclerosis. The house in which they live might as well be another character. Donyale Werle's sets (his work for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was also a highlight of that production) are brilliantly detailed from the clutter of the kitchen to brown carpet, which I think I might have had in my house growing up (my friend also commented that the chairs looked like ones she had in her childhood home).

Though there is drama when Malcolm reveals that he is considering moving back to Connecticut, there is not much buildup in this play until the final moments. Jackson's achievements are in his believable dialogue and characters. There is beauty in small moments like a domino game between a father and his two sons.

Thomas Kail, whose direction for musicals I've enjoyed, gets fine performances from his cast, though occasionally the pace drags a bit. Battiste is the standout. Not only is he the funniest, but his frustrations are the most palpable. Malcolm is a less showy role, but Miller and Battiste have a natural rapport. Pierce has some lovely moments, including a dance with a garden gnome. And he shines in the final scene which I won't reveal here, but occasionally he seemed to step out of character, as when his MS gait would disappear.

Though Dickinson adds a warm presence as Sonia, Broke-ology would have been better as a three-hander. The 1982 introduction is not really necessary as later scenes could have easily filled us in on the background, though Sonia and William's argument about Santa Claus provides some laughs. Later on, William starts to see Sonia, and these scenes are confusing. He really believes she is there, but he has multiple sclerosis, he's not crazy.

The night before Broke-ology, I saw The Brothers Size and Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet by Tarell Alvin McCraney. I won't be reviewing it, as it was an early preview, but I recommend it as a companion piece to Broke-ology as they deal with similar issues of family and brothers with complete opposite approaches.

No comments: