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Angela Carroll

RS/24 at Anacostia Playhouse

by Angela Carroll

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene

RS/24 is an ethereal drama about one long night in the life of Herbie, a record store owner (writer and director Clayton LeBouef, the veteran actor is best known for his performances in “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and “HBO’s The Wire.”)

Audience members, drawn into the small black box theater of the Anacostia Playhouse by a soulful soundtrack, see the space transformed into a vinyl stocked vintage record store with a huge golden record centerstage.

At the start, the play jumps between the present, character memories and excerpts from epic dreams. Memories are presented in disjointed and transient ways that mirror the nonlinear happenings in dreamtime. The dream sequences provide some of the most beautiful and surreal scenes in the play.  Short video projections (Tewodross Melchishua Williams) and stylized choreography elicit an interesting illusory aesthetic. Red lights and the crisp sound of an mbira announce the presence of avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra (Maurice McKinney) and two Arkestra angels (Vaunita Goodman/Larry E. Hull). The three beings are dressed in white. They pose in yogic postures, bow to each other and then address the audience, arms stretched outwards towards us as if welcoming us into the dream. “Words are like birds.” Sun Ra calls. “Words are like birds,” the angels reply. “Songs are like birds. They soar to higher heights” Sun Ra calls.

When John Coltrane’s beloved devotional “A Love Supreme” begins, Sun Ra and the angels disappear, replaced by projected video portraits of legendary deceased Black musicians, superimposed against a bright galaxy filled with a universe of stars. It becomes clear that LeBouef is drawing a connection between ancestral reverence traditions from the African Diaspora and his sacred appreciation for music.

Herbie, now alone in the record store, is unnerved by a dream he had a few hours earlier in which his store was visited by a celestial gathering of venerated musical ancestors including Sun Ra and members from his Arkestra. The musicians issue a directive that Herbie unearth a small box buried under a rose bush in his garden, bring it to his record store and keep the store open for 24 hours. Which is why Herbie is thereat 2am when he hears the loud bang of a gunshot from the alley.  

Shortly after, Melody (Kazi Jones) a lady of the night, walks in. At first she focuses on turning Herbie into her latest john, but eventually, and after being paid for her time, warms to Herbie’s company and the temporary haven from the streets he provides her. The lion’s share of the play focuses on their conversations that become more intimate throughout the night – shared recollections about music, Herbie’s dream and the mysterious contents in the box, and Melody’s disclosures about her life and profession. Jones and LeBouf are touching and relatable. The play gives them memorable one-liners from famous song lyrics. At times this inclusion is an endearing nod to great musicians, and in other moments it feels more like a forced cliché, but still largely engaging. On opening night, performers persevered through a few awkward missed sound and performance cues, but overall offered an entertaining work.

Nostalgic and magical, RS24 is a worthwhile play that explores the power of dreams, the wonder of great music and messages that transcend death.


RS/24. Writer, director, actor Clayton LeBouef. Featuring Kazi Jones, Vaunita Goodman, Maurice McKinney, Larry E. Hull. Projection and Sound Design: Tewodross Melchishua Williams. Lighting Designer: John D. Alexander. Stage Manager: Kristina Jackson. Producer/co-director: Ella Davis and Cheryl Lewis Hawkins, All About the Drama Theatre Group, Prosperity Media Enterprise and The Zhanra Group . 

Breathe – a New Transformative Musical

by Angela Carroll

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene

Breathe is a transformative work written and directed by Cleavon Meabon IV about the resilience of an African-American family trying to establish balance in the face of white violence. An announcer from TheARC stood before the sold out opening night crowd to offer a word of warning. “You will go through a range of emotions” he stated encouragingly. His warning was warranted. Expect to be uncomfortable. You may feel deep sadness. Rage. Joy. You may feel moved to clap along with classical spirituals and timeless blues.  You will not leave the theater the way you came in.  

Original musical arrangements (Meabon/Jarrett Roseborough), dynamic choreography (Ebony Ingram), beautiful costuming (Tyson Evans/Belinda Ligon/Luqman Salim/Sankara Xasha Ture/Solfistafunk) and a stellar collective of vocalists illuminate narratives about the lives of the Jones’, a family of sharecroppers and their community; The Midwives, The Blues People, The Revival and The Dancers.  The Fruit, the tortured spirits of lynched men and women also share their stories and mark the transition of others who have been or will also be murdered.  Each group contributes troubling and transcendent choreo-poems, scenes and songs about living in a free Black settlement in the 19th century south.

The sound of syncopated breathing and the hum of a fog machine echo in the dark theater. The lights rise on a modest setting — wooden fences, baskets filled with flowers and tree branches draped with limp nooses. A chorus of melodic singing ascends from the exits and grows louder as the full cast moves through the audience toward the stage. The cast exits and Myra “Jean” Jones (Kayla Dixon) and the Midwives—Selma (Alexis Smith), Gertie (Brittany Turner), Erma (Lady Davonne), Cissy (Catrina Brenae) and Devorah (Corisa Myers), are left singing. Myra, shrouded in a long white dress that clings to her full pregnant belly, walks to the center of the stage and recites a powerful monologue.

The monologue imagines a confrontation she would have with her rapist slave owner, who she images may be the father of her unborn child.. “My foundations lie in them fields. Centuries of royalty raped out of my DNA” Myra laments.  Labor pains bring her out of the dream and into a birth room with the Midwives who sing for her to “Breathe.” Myra screams, “You invaded me…fix it! Fix me! I don’t belong to you.” Her husband Wilbur R. Jones, Sr. (Kofi) shocked and pained by the traumas his wife has suffered sits rocking in a corner with his knees clutched tightly to his chest. The performances of the cast in these scenes are exceptional and haunting.

The word “breathe” is repeatedly invoked by individuals and in chorus as a mantra, prayer and rally cry throughout the play. One immediately recalls Eric Garner’s last words—he uttered “I can’t breathe” eleven times through an illegal chokehold before he eventually died from the lack of oxygen to his brain. Meabon situates contemporary violence in relation to histories of violence that have literally and systemically suffocated black lives and livelihoods.

Breathe does not adhere to a strict linear storytelling style. Rather, the stories follow in the tradition of other notable nonlinear post-slavery chronicles like Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, or Alvin Ailey’s Revelations that fluctuate between the contemporary world its protagonists inhabit and ethereal flashbacks.

The scene transitions from disturbing recollections by the Midwives and Myra about the days they were purchased on the auction block to an epic full cast church revival that overwhelms the stage with ecstatic dance and song. Meabon is strategic in his arrangement of narrative — every iteration of trauma is countered with exuberant examples of Black joy. The juxtaposition of innovative performance traditions with violent acts illustrates some of the brilliant mechanisms African-Americans have engaged to survive the recurrence of abhorrent violations.

The story eventually settles years later at the home of free Myra and Wilbur and their four children, Rayford Jones (Bryan Archibald), Marlyn “Jean” Jones (Nzingha Ashford), Rona “Jean” Jones (Courtney Harris), and Harold “Bud” Jones (CJ Harris). Rayford, the oldest son, puts on his best clothes to head out for a night on the town with his friends. He tells his family that he is headed to a juke joint to listen to blues, but he really intends to visit Madame Lovely’s, a speakeasy and whorehouse on the other side of town. The music transitions from spirituals to blues and wonderful dance sequences by The Blues People, Rayford and his friends, Madame Lovely (Dana Coleman), and her lingered girls. In the end, the narrative takes a tragic but expected turn.

Breathe is a poignant work that is heavy laden with outrageous cruelty, but if you can sit through the terrors, you will be greatly rewarded with a captivating production.


Breathe The Musical. Written & Directed by Cleavon Meabon, IV. Featuring: Kayla Dixon, Kofi, Bryan Archibald, Nzingha Ashford, Courtney Harris, CJ Harris, Alexis Smith, Brittany Turner, Lady Davonne, Brittany Caldwell, Catrina Brenae, Corisa Myers, Tiana Thomas, Harrison Walker, Thomas Shipp, Anthony Powell, Abram Smith, Latoya Lewis, Emilie Antonie, Shawnee Owens, Laura Nelson, Niko Gibbs, Lige Daniels, Tatyana Glannigan, Unknown, Dana Coleman, Jaleesa Sharp, Niko Gibbs, Harrison Walker, Anthony Powell, Barry Moton, Da’neisha Ligon, Tyra Jackson, Naila Brown, Carla Camargo, Lailah Horseford.  Assistant Director: Nathaniel Shelton. Musical Director: Cleavon Meabon, IV. Music Composer: Cleavon Meabon, IV. Music Arranger: Cleavon Meabon, IV, Jarrett Roseborough.  Music Producer: Robert Dixon, Jr. Choreographer: Ebony Ingram. Dane Captains: Jaleesa Sharp, Da’Neisha Ligon. Costuming: Tyson Evans, Belinda Ligon, Sankara Xasha Ture, Solfistafunk. Set Design: Tyson Evans, Darius Ligon.  Prod. Manager: Demetrius Cole. Sound Design: Demonte Cross. Light Design: Jourdan Holden. Marketing/Graphic Design: SoulFree Enterprises. Photography: Cleavisions. Creative Direction: Cleavon Meabon, IV. Support Staff: Kevin Thorne, II.  Associate Producers: Belinda Ligon, Chandra Gore, Alexis Smith, Shantelle Mosby. Produced by SoulFree Enterprises . Executive Producer: Tyson Evans .

Disgraced from Compass Rose Theater

by Angela Carroll

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene

Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winning Disgraced is a thoughtful character study about American Muslim identity. Driven by casual conversations, the play reveals earnest and unsettling disclosures about the perceptions and misconceptions we all maintain and project about those with differing world views. Compass Rose Theater offers a fresh production with direction from James Bunzli at a temporary location in Annapolis, Maryland. 

Disgraced takes place in the Upper East Side Manhattan apartment of married couple Amir, a successful Pakistani lawyer (Park Juneja) and Emily, white visual artist (Katie Wicklund). Audiences are immediately made aware of their divergent political and philosophical beliefs. Emily is deeply inspired by classical Islamic visual culture. “It’s time we stopped paying lip service to Islam and Islamic art. We draw on the Greeks and the Romans, but Islam is part of who we are too!” she explains. She appropriates Islamic art aesthetics to bolster her career as a contemporary artist. In contrast Amir, who allows people to think he is from India rather than Pakistan, is vehemently critical of anything associated with Islam, a religion he considers “backwards”.

Amir struggles to come to terms with his relationship to Islam and fears that it could destroy his American dream to assimilate, attain wealth and not be viewed as a terrorist. His nephew Abe (Joe Mucciolo) counters Amir’s perspective with a keen pride in Islamic culture and religion, but ironically prefers his newly adopted western name over the Pakistani one he was born with. Abe begs Amir to provide legal counsel to a local imam who is accused of aiding terrorists. Initially Amir adamantly refuses, but eventually agrees to attend the trial as a neutral observer. That decision proves disastrous for Amir’s professional and personal life.

Still reeling and dazed from events following the trial, Amir wearily agrees to cohost a dinner party Emily is throwing. In the hopes of solidifying the acquisition of her paintings, Emily invites mutual friends over for dinner: Isaac, a respected Jewish art dealer (Sam Midwood) and his wife Jory (Aunye’ Boone), an African American lawyer and colleague of Amir. The dialogue between Isaac and Amir is especially revealing– both men maintain problematic and inconsistent conceptions about the religion, culture and traditions of the other.

In that scene, one of the highlights of the production, Juneja and Milwood deliver passionate performances. Isaac asks Amir if he was happy about the September 11 attacks.  “Are you telling me you’ve never felt anything like that? An unexpected blush of pride?”, Amir asks. “Blush? No! I don’t feel anything like a blush.” Isaac retorts. “When you hear about Israel throwing its military weight around?” Amir comes back. Isaac, “I am critical of Israel. A lot of Jews are.” Amir, “And when you hear about Ahmadinejad going to the Mediterranean? How do you feel about that?” Isaac, “Outraged like anybody else.” Amir “Not everyone feels outraged.”

Compass Rose Theater presents a satisfying production of a timely work about America’s tenuous relationship to Islam. While the company transitions to a new venue, they are preforming in a space tucked inside the Power House Building adjacent to the Loews Hotel. It’s a little tricky to find. Arrive early to ensure a good seat.


Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Director: James Bunzli. Featuring: Par Juneja, Katie Wicklund, Sam Midwood, Aunye’ Boone, Joe Mucciolo. Stage Manager: Caitlin Weller. Lighting Designer: Caitlin Weller. Production Supervisor/Properties: Mary Ruth Cowgill. Costume Designer: Katie Boothroyd. Produced by  Compass Rose Theater. 

The Intruders Takes on Gentrification in DC

by Angela Carroll

This article was first published on DC Theatre Scene

Hope Lynne Price-Lindsay’s The Intruders  is an entertaining satire about the contemporary wave of gentrification in DC that packs lots of laughs, but fails to do more than scratch the surface of a pressing issue. Directed by Vera J. Katz, and produced by The New Millennium Howard Players, The Intruders is one of over one hundred performances included in the 9th Annual INTERSECTIONS Festival. 

The Intruders centers on the observations of longtime DC residents, friends and Ella (Judy E. Leak), Avis (E. Dawn Samuel) and Ella’s professional adult children Jennifer (Farah Benkahla) and Elliot (Neko Ramos) about the influx of white wealthy couples purchasing homes in their community– who Avis calls “urban pioneers”. Their conversations occur on the front porch of Ella’s modest home — a yellow façade, gate, two patio chairs, and a small table.  “I used to know everybody on this block” Ella sighs, “now I’m a stranger in my own neighborhood.”

The family is skeptical about the changes the neighborhood is undergoing and angered by the emergence of a newsletter that details a long list of mandates issued by their new Block Association. One of their new neighbors, Zylinksi (Jim Epstein), leads the charge of the Block Association to prevent activities that he believes will depreciate the property values of their homes. He spends much of his time patrolling the community, looking into the windows of his neighbors, and making notes about the violations he finds.  Zylinksi is portrayed as well-meaning and annoyingly aloof about why Ella and other residents would be offended by the amenities that their new neighbors bring to the community.  “In colonial times they sent missionaries, but in contemporary America they build a Starbucks.” Elliot laments. This is especially amusing for anyone living in DC who has witnessed the influx of corporations that previously avoided predominant POC neighborhoods like the plague. Starbucks has functioned as a kind of white-flag, a sign that higher earning inhabitants are in the region. Who else would pay $6 for a cup of coffee?

The family is perplexed and amused by what they consider to be warning signs of gentrification; adults riding bicycles, white people with toy size dogs, and claw foot tubs among others. Elliot is especially critical of the changes.  His monologues in the play provide the primary historical context about gentrification– the disenfranchisement, inequitable housing, and racialized zoning policies minority populations living in D.C. have experienced. Unfortunately, Elliot’s assessments are presented as embittered rhetoric, rather than important examinations about the real-time effects of gentrification.

After a strong first act, the play meanders through a series of catch-phrase, knee jerk perspectives about gentrification that rarely go beyond surface assessments. The dialogues which occur between Zylinkski and Elliot are at times revelatory, but often fall into simplified polarizations– an angsty white liberal pit against an aggressive black man. In one tense exchange, Eliot confronts Zylinksi about the newsletter and the encroachment of urban pioneers into the neighborhood he has lived in his entire life. Though Eliot makes strong points, his volume and assertiveness frighten Zylinksi, who threatens to call the police. Other tensions between Zylinksi and members of Ella’s family are quickly, and too easily resolved.

The play concludes with a significant but expected tragedy that catalyzes an odd, unbelievable kumbaya sentimentality between Zylinksi on behalf of the Block Association, and Ella’s family. In many ways, the tragedy felt like a stand-in for a difficult dialogue. While these missteps do not take away from the overall great performances by cast members, especially Judy E. Leak and E. Dawn Samuel, it did seem like a missed opportunity to more thoroughly and creatively explore the phenomenon of gentrification in the District.

The Intruders had two performances, March 3 and 4, 2018 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.


The Intruders by Hope Lynne Price-Lindsay. Director: Vera J. Katz. Featuring: Judy E. Leak, E. Dawn Samuel, Jim Epstein, Neko Ramos, Martece Caudle, Todd Leatherbury, Farah Benkahla. Understudy: James Curtis Bowers. Set Designer: Greg Jackson. Stage Manager: Antoinette Fisher-Green. Technical Director: India Soodoo.  Produced by The New Millennium Howard Players. 

Teen drama, Count Down, Strand’s entry in Women’s Voices Theater Festival

by Angela Carroll

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene

Count Down, one of many extraordinary plays included in this year’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival is an emotional drama about teenage girls living in a group home in Chester, New Jersey. Playwright Dominique Cieri based it on her experiences teaching in a similar home. 

Carmela (Brittany Nicole Timmons), an enthusiastic veteran art teacher assigned to work with girls at the home, hopes to help them develop a play about their lives. The girls are reluctant to participate in the class, and skeptical about Carmela’s intentions. Most of the girls came from troubled homes.  Esi (Natalie Dent), is haunted by her mothers’ drug addiction and battle with terminal cancer. Tizzy (Nell Quinn-Gibney) has debilitating shaking spells triggered by memories of being force fed bleach when she was a young child. Amber (Kylie Miller) lives in constant fear of the day her abusive father will be released from prison.

Carmelas’ initial attempts to work with the girls end disastrously. While trying to break up a fight between Blanca (Malissa Cruz Romero) and Neema (Zipporah Brown) Carmela gets punched in the face. In another scene Esi throws a dodge ball at Carmela’s head. Rashida (IO Browne) wants to sing, but she is burdened by a crippling insecurity that makes her hesitant to do so in front of others.  Romero’s Blanca can recall every baseball statistic about her crush Derek Jeter and instigates fist fights to distance herself from the group. Miriam (Rose Hahn) is extremely intelligent; she resents having Tourette’s Syndrome, and prefers reading over participating in group activities.

Carmela toggles between her passion to teach and mounting frustration that her plans are not coming to fruition. Carmela encourages the girls to write their fears and dreams down in a personal journal. 

The lead social worker, Hobbs (George Oliver Buntin) confronts Carmela with concerns that the writing activity may be harmful to the girls’ ability to heal from the traumas they endured. Carmela ignores this warning and pushes the girls to explore their emotions through the arts. As Carmela persists, the girls gradually warm to her and find solace in sharing their stories with one another.

Count Down, is a truly moving drama that showcases strong acting from a young ensemble which allows us to empathize with their characters’ struggles to overcome personal challenges.


Count Down by Dominique Cieri. Directed by Bari Hochwald. Cast: Zipporah Brown, IO Browne, George Oliver Buntin, Malissa Cruz Romero, Natalie Dent, Rose Hahn, Kylie Miller, Nell Quinn-Gibney, Brittany Nicole Timmons. Stage Managers, Molly Prunty/Aris Hines. Lighting Design, Lana Riggins. Sound Design, Max Bent. Master Carpenter, Peter Johnson. Scenic Painter, Haley Horton. Costume Design, Hannah Viau. Graphic Design, Sherrionne Brown. Marketing/PR, Elena Kostakis. Fight Choreography, Brad Norris. Photography, Shealyn Jae. Masks Facilitator, Tara Cariaso. Produced by Strand Theater Company. 

Violence versus Pacifism, Brown versus Douglass: The Raid at Theater Alliance

By Angela Carroll

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene. 

“Everyone in this play is dead,” Harriet Tubman (Tiffany Byrd) announces minutes into the first act. Frederick Douglass (Marquis D. Gibson), John Brown (Nicklas Aliff), Henry Kagi (Josh Adams), Emperor (Dylan J. Fleming), John Brown Jr. (Robert Bowen Smith), and Mahala Doyle (Moira Todd),  speak directly to the audience from seats among us, and introduce their story about the 1865 raid on Harpers Ferry. Idris Goodwin’s, The Raid, directed by Colin Hoyde, makes its regional debut at Theater Alliance. The masterful historical drama blends poetic prose, contemporary choreography and excerpts from legendary abolitionist debates.

The Raid portrays a series of discussions between John Brown and Frederick Douglass that occur over many years about how best to upend the institution of slavery in the United States. Brown was a radical Christian who believed it was his mission and calling to engage in armed rebellions against individual and institutional proponents of slavery. Brown was later hanged for murdering plantation owners.  Douglass was a scholar who escaped enslavement and believed in the possibilities of political reform. Though Brown is adamant that Douglass should take the position of leader in the armed rebellions against slavery, believing that a former slave was better suited to lead other slaves out of bondage than a white man, Douglass repeatedly declines. “Stories are the catalyst for empathy,” Douglass explains to an agitated Brown, “I am a former slave who thinks, breathes and lives. This is my resistance.”  By observing their passionate debates, intercut by flashbacks that help to contextualize their encounters, we learn about the victories and devastating losses that occurred during the battle to end slavery.

The intimate black box theater of the Anacostia Playhouse is an incredibly immersive space.  No matter where you are seated, you feel as though you are a part of the performance; you can see the sweat on the actors’ back and brow, feel the reverberation as fists thud against flesh during fight scenes.  Epic battles and tense interactions balance dialogue heavy scenes. The ensemble does not rely on many props or intricate costumes. The styling was contemporary rather than staunchly reflective of fashion from the period.

The precision of the fight choreography, designed by Cliff Williams III and the talent of the ensemble captures the urgency of abolitionists during key moments before the election of Abraham Lincoln and the start of the Civil War. The cast presented dynamic characterizations of famous and lesser known historical figures. 

Byrd’s Harriet Tubman is stoic, blunt and mysterious as she relays insights and forewarnings about the future. (Tubman suffered a traumatic head injury from her former slave owner that caused her to have blackouts, and the gift of premonition.)  Henry Kagi’s (Josh Adams) anxious paranoia provides a striking contrast with the tenacious confidence of his mentor John Brown.  Gibson portrays Douglass with a soft-spoken authority that balances the timid shyness of his protégé, Emperor (Dylan J. Fleming).  Though brief, the portrayals of John Brown Jr. (Robert Bowen Smith), and Mahala Doyle (Moira Todd), the widow of a plantation owner Brown’s militia killed, are also memorable. Beautiful light and scenic design by Megan Thrift and Jessica Cancino, and an atmospheric score by Kevin Alexander, punctuate major beats in the play and facilitate a deeper immersion into the story.

The Raid is well written, wonderfully acted and a genuinely enlightening historical drama.


The Raid. Written by Idris Goodwin. Directed by Colin Hovde. Featuring: Josh Adams, Nicklas Aliff, Tiffany Byrd, Dylan J. Fleming, Marquis D. Gibson, Robert Bowen Smith, Moira Todd. Assistant Director, Dylan Morrison Myers. Scenic Designer, Jessica Cancino. Lighting Designer, Megan Thrift. Sound Design, Kevin Alexander. Fight Director, Cliff Williams III. Stage Manager, Simone Baskerville. Produced by Theater Alliance.

Danai Gurira’s comedy Familiar at Woolly Mammoth Theatre

by Angela Carroll

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene

Familiar, by Tony Award winning playwright Danai Gurira, is an intimate comedy-drama set in the home of a first-generation Zimbabwean family living in Minnesota. The family has gathered over the weekend to celebrate and prepare for the winter wedding of their eldest daughter, Tendi (Sharina Martin) to Chris, her white fiancé, (Drew Kopas).

Audiences engage with the story through the family’s hilarious and layered discourse.  Nyasha, the youngest daughter (Shannon Dorsey), is an artist who has dedicated herself to uphold the cultural traditions she assumes her parents have abandoned. Her resentment for her parents is particularly amusing; she is financially dependent on them, and benefits from the fortune they have accrued, but critiques them harshly for failing to teach her more about her heritage. Nyasha’s passionate desire to sustain and expand her connection to their heritage is fostered by her relationship with her aunt Margaret, (Twinkle Burke). Though Margaret is portrayed as worrisome – she avoids conversations about her career or children, and drinks excessively – she is an important resource for Nyasha, who learns about the customs and language of the Shona people from her.

Nyasha’s mother Marvelous, (Inga Ballard), and father Donald, (Kim Sullivan), are caught in their own marital debate. Their struggle is coded in their recurring interaction with a map of Zimbabwe; each time Donald hangs up the map, Marvelous removes it and buries it at the bottom of a closet. The map comes to represent an unspoken anxiety about their relationship to each other and their troubled memories of Zimbabwe.

The situation intensifies with the arrival of  Marvelous’ older sister Anne (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), the matriarch of the family. Anne flew from Zimbabwe to Minnesota to conduct a traditional pre-wedding ceremony called Roora, a ritual she believes will bless and fortify the bond between her niece Tendi and Chris. The troubled relationship between Marvelous and Anne is a major point of contention for the family; each woman stubbornly maintains their perception about the other as irrational and belligerently combative. In one particularly telling scene, Anne confronts Marvelous about her hesitations to participate in the Roora ceremony.  “We can do our customs and be Christian.” Anne states confidently. “Our ancestors are dead!” Marvelous screams back. “But they don’t want our customs to die out!” Anne rebuts. The family is flanked on all sides by secrets from the past that threaten to disrupt their lives. Anne’s character anchors the family to Zimbabwe, and functions as a blatant reminder about all the family lost when they became American.

Some of the funniest scenes occur when Anne tries to teach Chris and his brother Brad (Andy Truschinski) how to properly execute the Roora ceremony. Brad, an army vet and self-proclaimed “family fuck up” must serve as the Munyai, a messenger between the groom, Chris and Anne, the ceremonial conductor. The brothers are bewildered that they are required to pay a monetary tribute for Tendi’s hand in marriage. Chris’ love for Tendi, coupled with his desire to revere the traditions of his new family, prompt him to acquiesce enthusiastically to all of Anne’s requests while Brad is especially vocal about his discomfort and responds to each of Anne’s requests with random outbursts and satirical queries.

Gurira describes Familiar, as “an ode to the African immigrant”, and while the play does a marvelous job of humanizing representations of African-American families, it is also an outstanding work of classic Americana. Under the direction of Adam Immerwahr, a longtime collaborator with Gurira, Woolly Mammoth’s exceptional cast present distinctly memorable characters who each reflect the changing face of America. Gurira’s wit and humor offers powerful perspectives about culture, economics, race and privilege that are profoundly refreshing. Entertaining, full of unexpected plot twists and revelatory characters, Familiar is an outstanding entry in the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.


Familiar by Danai Gurira. Directed by Adam Immerwahr. Cast: Shannon Dorsey as Nyasha, Inga Ballard as Marvelous, Kim Sullivan as Donald, Twinkle Burke as Margaret, Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Anne, Sharina Martin as Tendi, Drew Kopas as Chris, and Andy Truschiniski as Brad. Lighting Design, Colin K. Bills. Set Design, Paige Hathaway. Costume Design, Karen Perry and Robert Croghan. Sound Design, Justin Schmitz. Stage Manager, John Keith Hall. Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company .