Tuesday, February 10, 2015



Every culture has its traditions and customs, the guiding principles that dictate who and what its citizens are.  Preserving these tenets distinguish one people from another.  For immigrants, many conflicts can arise.  Do you adhere to the past or do you assimilate and adapt the ways of your new country of choice?

For the Chinyaramwira family who have settled in Minnesota, far away from their turbulent homeland in Zimbabwe, they usually consider their place of birth an ancient history.  They have established a comfortable and affluent life in this country and their success makes their old ties difficult to reconcile.  A singular event, however, reopens the past and makes it the elephant in the living room:  the upcoming marriage of their daughter Tendikayi (Cherise Boothe) to a white boy  Chris (Ross Marquand).

The Yale Repertory Theatre commissioned Danai Gurira to write this tale "Familiar" through their Binger Center for New Works.  It will play at the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven until Saturday, February 21. "Familiar" is an intriguing world premiere drama that brings members of the extended clan together, calling forth a volcano of emotions capable of destroying the surface harmonies that are only one layer of thickness deep.

Marvelous Chinyaramwira (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) is matriarch with a capital M.  She knows what is right for the family and every one must kowtow to her formidable wishes.  Her husband Donald (Harvy Blanke) has learned that lesson well.  The upcoming nuptials bring everyone home to the roost but the agendas differ wildly. Younger sister Nyasta (Shyko Amos) still hasn't forgiven or forgotten that she wasn't asked to be a bridesmaid, while Marvelous' sisters Margaret (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) and Annie (Kimberly Scott) view the wedding on diametrically different sides.

Should the wedding be the perfect time and place to reinstate the old ways, to resurrect family ties to Zimbabwe, to demand of Tendikayi's husband-to-be a Roora, a negotiated dowry for the bride, a prize that may or may not include a cow.  Chris calls upon his younger brother Brad (Joe Tippett) to help with the unusual financial arrangements.  The Roora successfully divides everyone, between those who feel it is spiritually rewarding, to call upon the ancient ways and revive them, and those who feel it is ridiculous to move backward rather than forward.

How can there be a wedding with the huge elephant, or rather cow, sitting on the living room sofa? Other secrets, hidden for decades, also escape from their Pandora's box.  Rebecca Taichman directs this involving drama with a compassionate hand, on a lovely set by Matt Saunders and a fine cast of actors who represent all the multiple colors and sides of the question.

For tickets ($20-98), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org.  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.

Get familiar with this family in the midst of planning a joyous event who feel their past pulling them in a direction many do not want to travel.  The journey is well worth pursuing.

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