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Photo: Joan Marcus

Cititour.com Review
To the Westons of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” and the Blakes of Stephen Karam’s “The Humans,” let us add the Chinyaramwiras of Danai Gurira’s “Familiar,” now at Playwrights Horizons. And like those other blazingly funny and deeply moving family sagas, Gurira’s triumphant work – hot on the heels of her now Broadway-transferred “Eclipsed” – is full of uproarious moments, dark family secrets, tear-inducing revelations, all the while pointing a sharp spotlight squarely pointed on the foibles and humanity of everyday people. And much like the celebrated New York productions of those other works, “Familiar” is blessed with the kind of flawless ensemble acting that is wondrous to behold.

So is Clint Ramos’ elaborate set, a gorgeously decorated Minnesota home overseen by the quiet-yet-deep Donald (the excellent Harold Surratt) and his elegant, no-nonsense wife Marvelous (the aptly marvelous Tamara Tunie), a pair of Zimbabwean immigrants who have made a highly successful life in America. They are preparing for the rehearsal wedding dinner of their eldest daughter Tendi (the superb Roslyn Ruff), a lawyer like her dad and a control freak like her mom. She is not only being married outside the family religion (surprise, they’re Lutherans), but to a white man, the sweet-natured Chris (a well-cast Joby Earle), whose pre-nuptial day proves to be more than he bargained for.

In fact, no one expects what will happen in just a couple of hours, precipitated mostly by the unexpected (to some) arrival of Marjorie’s eldest sister Anne (the sublime Myra Lurcretia Taylor), who has flown in from Africa to perform a traditional African wedding ceremony. Marvelous’ strong objection to the custom – and most specifically to Anne’s presence – ultimately becomes clear in a shocking yet believable development that goes deeply to heart to the sub-theme of Gurira’s play: how quickly we (all immigrants) assimilate to our newfound home’s current customs and leave behind our own.

But the play is called “Familiar,” foremost because it taps so beautifully to the nature of all families: the sibling dynamics between Anne, Marvelous, and baby sister Margaret (the delightful Melanie Nicholls-King); between Tendi and her younger sister, Nyesha (a wonderful Ito Agahyere), a musician and “feng shui artist” recently returned from Zimbabwe and struggling to hold on to her heritage, and between Chris and his fecklessly charming brother Brad (a delicious Joe Tippett) are all gorgeously drawn. And any longtime couple can see themselves in Donald and Marvelous’ marriage, where communication has almost evaporated and what is left unsaid threatens to destroy all that is good and strong about their union.

Director Rebecca Taichman has done her strongest work to date here, not only in guiding these amazing actors, but creating moments of theatre that are alternately large and minute, jaw-dropping and head-nodding, and which both go beyond the familiar and embrace them. Miss this play at your peril – or simply hope that it moves to Broadway in the near future.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Ito Aghayere, Joby Earle, Melanie Nicholls-King, Roslyn Ruff, Harold Surratt, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Joe Tippett, Tamara Tunie

Open/Close Dates
Opening 2/12/2016
Closing 4/10/2016

Box Office

Theatre Info
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036