Multitalented playwright and actress Danai Gurira’s new play Familiar has a pulsing, beating heart. A deft writer who knows when to end a scene, Gurira’s portrayal of a Zimbabwean-American family in Minnesota preparing to give away their daughter in marriage while fighting to hold onto everything they can of their culture is rich with hearty belly laughs that leaven heart-wrenching revelations.
Riotously charming, this cross-cultural sitcom is grounded by a startlingly unique American story and a stellar cast. The family dynamics will be acutely, well, familiar to viewers. Jacqueline Williams’s character hilariously struggles and fails to mediate between her two sisters, played by Ora Jones, the responsible sister who thoughtfully plans ahead, and the phenomenal Cheryl Lynn Bruce, the rebel with a twinkle in her eye, bucking conventions, gleefully shouting the unspeakable, and lighting every scene on fire with a handbag on her shoulder and love in her heart.
The word “assimilation” evokes a host of tangled emotions: pain, comfort, confusion. Director Danya Taymor exquisitely navigates this difficult terrain. Lanise Antoine Shelley and Celeste M. Cooper flourish in deliciously written roles as sisters of the younger generation, caught between a past they never knew and an unpredictable future. Cedric Young brings quiet depth to the “bumbling dad” trope. Erik Hellman and Luigi Sottile, as the fiance and his younger brother, are heartwarmingly hilarious as white sheep-black-sheep comedic foils and harbingers of a hopeful vision of intercultural acceptance and celebration. v