Monday, December 8, 2014


                                                PHOTOS BY JOAN MARCUS

Family secrets can explode like an erupting volcano and the hot lava of disclosure can burn its victims.  Such is the premise of a world premiere drama "War" by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins sending out sparks until Saturday, December 13 at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.

Initially commissioned by Yale Rep's Binger Center for New Theatre, the playwright traveled to Germany to research his basic premise:  what happens when an African-American soldier stationed in that country during World War II fathers a child, abandons it and returns home, never disclosing that event to his family.  Imagine for a moment how you might react if you learned about this child you never knew existed decades after the fact, a situation created by your grandfather's actions.

 Siblings Tate (Donte Bonner) and Joanne (Rachel Holmes) are in the midst of a crisis.  Their mother Roberta (Tonya Pinkins) has suffered a stroke and they have rushed to her hospital room. Once there they discover a strange woman Elfriede (Trezana Beverley) at her bedside, a woman who claims in her broken English to be Roberta's sister.

When Elfriede's son Tobias (Philippe Bowgen) bursts into the room, the chaos continues in an escalation of anger, misunderstanding and disbelief.  Joanne's Caucasian husband Malcolm (Greg Keller) tries to disarm the verbal bombs that keep exploding but he is no more successful than the nurse (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) also in attendance.

The family matriarch Roberta appears as a confused woman trying to find her way, a stroke victim who doesn't understand what has happened to her mind and body. She creates the touching and troubling tremors of a woman in the grips of a nightmare of illness.  A simbian-like character Alpha (also played by Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) tries to translate and clarify her confusion.  Like monkeys in a zoo, he attempts to make sense of what the two families, who have just met, are experiencing. We watch the monkeys perform and they, in turn, mimic our actions.

The deeds of their grandfather have come back in a haunting reality.  Tobias is brutally unhappy about how he and his mother have been treated, especially because of a genetic disease that plagues them both, a gift from that soldier in the war.  Can these combatants resolve their conflict?  Can war be transformed into a blessed peace?  Director Lileana Blain-Cruz takes the roller coaster ride to an answer through a series of twists and turns you might not anticipate.

For tickets ($20-98), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at or  Performances are Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m, Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Prepare for battle in this confrontational drama where the opponents strike out in anger, trying to discover what is at stake to both sides of the conflict.

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