The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings










See links at top of our Main Page







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review

"We are ALL her mothers! And I am saying these customs cannot die."— Familiar
Kimberly Scott and Patrice Johnson
Sometimes you simply don't know where you are or where you want to be. Take immigrants, simultaneously adjusting to their adopted country's values while drawn back to their native lands. They are, as Danai Gurira's new play Familiar puts it, "cultural hybrids."

A diffuse, sentimental, sometimes funny, sometimes touching work-in-progress, Familiar in its world premiere at Yale Rep, could use cutting. Its initiating action is the impending wedding of Tendikayi, a lawyer living the American Dream in suburban Minneapolis with her upwardly mobile family who emigrated from Zimbabwe. Her fiance Chris is Caucasian; both are chaste Christians. But along about the middle of the play comes an over-extended Zimbabwean ceremony that seems as endless as the 34-year reign of that nation's president-dictator Robert Mugabe.

Strife begins even before the first bit of dialogue: mother, a control freak, MIT graduate and professor named Marvelous, cooks a meal while father Donald stares affectionately at a poster of Mugabe. Annoyed, Marvelous changes the portrait for one of a bland landscape. Thus begins the duel of roots vs. assimilation.

That battle is further joined with the arrival of Marvelous' older sister, Annie, who insists on the pre-nuptial ceremony called roora. In this African ritual, Annie and Chris bargain about the bride's dowry, a traditional event that particularly annoys Marvelous.

Meanwhile, Tendikayi clashes with her younger sister, Nyasha, a New York singer and feng sui consultant, just returned from a trip to Zimbabwe. Also caught in a no-woman's land is their mother's fashion-conscious younger sister, Maggie, born in Africa but into the very American career of direct sales.

Act Two veers off the tracks from these intriguing dichotomies between tradition and modernity into a domestic comedy-drama. Startling revelations send Tendikayi into a sexual and emotional tailspin.

Compared with similarly-themed dramas like A Raisin in the Sun and its sequel, Clybourne Park, Gurira's characters are one-dimensional pawns in the playwright's admittedly provocative scheme. Tendikayi elicits the most sympathy, but the playwright's focus seems to be on Nyasha.

The actors give us the essentials, although they're not always intelligible. As Marvelous, Saidah Arrika Ekulona is ramrod-straight, a commanding figure who sails through the house like Queen Mary. Shyko Amos brings levity and wryness to the role of Nyasha, while Cherise Boothe as Tendikayi and Ross Marquand as Chris the engaged couple, are, well, quite engaging.

As Brad, Chris' swinging cousin, Joe Tippett is impulsive, amusing and refreshingly realistic. As transplanted Zimbabweans, Patrice Johnson Chevannes is a stylish Margaret, Kimberly Scott a vociferous Annie, while Harvy Blanks struggles with his third-wheel role as Donald, the household's meek patriarch.

Rebecca Taichman's direction is precise, matching Gurira's well-considered plot developments. In a play in which the familiar outstrips the exotic and a search for identity is in the driver's seat, it helps to know where we're going.

Familiar by Danai Gurira
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
CAST: Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Harvy Blanks, Shyko Amos, Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Cherise Boothe, Kimberly Scott, Ross Marquand, Joe Tippett
Composers: Somi and Toru Dodo
Scenic Designer: Matt Saunders
Costume Designer: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting Designer: Joey Moro
Sound Designer: Brian Hickey
Dialect and Vocal Coach: Beth McGuire
Production Dramatury: Carrie Hughes
Casting Director: Tara Rubin Casting
Stage Manager: Anita Shastri
Running Time: Act I - 70 minutes, Act II - 45 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission
Yale Rep, New Haven, Conn., Jan. 30-Feb. 21
Reviewed Feb. 6, 2015
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Familiar
  • I disagree with the review of Familiar
  • The review made me eager to see Familiar
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2015, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from