Danai Gurira has two plays on stage this season. Eclipsed, the highly acclaimed story of Liberian women persevering through civil war, is playing on Broadway at John Golden Theater. And then there’s Familiar, which is playing at Playwrights Horizon through March 27.
One thing that’s consistent between both stories is the comedy, but to think Familar is any less hard hitting than Eclipsed would be a mistake. Gurira takes the lives of a Zimbabwean family, which proves to be, indeed, familiar, and magnifies a feeling of solidarity that we form with the characters in a way that paralysis audiences with equal parts laughter and tears.
My brother is getting married this summer. I can tell you first hand, the union of two families opens the pandoras box of any buried family issues. But I can’t say I was ready to connect as much as I did.
To start, Clint Ramos’ beautiful, model home-esque, set immediately brought me back to the comforts of my own Midwestern home.
No, the White’s aren’t from Zimbabwe. No, their oldest daughter (me) is not exactly Tendi (Roslyn Ruff) — a high achieving lawyer and bride to be. Nor am I wedding someone outside of my race and culture.
But what I can relate to is Nyasha’s (Ito Aghayere) plight as an artist. I deeply connected with her efforts to connect with her roots, all of which seem to go unnoticed, unappreciated, and misunderstood.
I can hear my brothers echoing the pressures of perfection following in their big sister’s footsteps. I can see my parents in Marvelous (Tamara Tunie) — a woman who works and sacrifices to provide a better life for her family, but is criticized by other family members in the process.
I hear my grandparents in Anne (Myra Lucretia Taylor)– great orators, telling the story of our past and challenging the importance of this history in our upbringing. I can finally feel my parent’s heartache in Donald (Harold Surrat) — just wanting to go home to be with their family and uplift their people.
Gurira’s characters make up a portrait of a family—customs, secrets, and all— bonded in a place that is far away from home.
But really, what is home? Or rather, where?
This is the story of tradition versus assimilation. Doing your best to provide for your family. Trying to move forward, without forgetting what’s behind. And that’s a challenge that will conjure familiarity in more households than my own. Familiar tears down your front door and leaves you ready to revisit, listen, apologize, forgive, and love.
There’s no handbook to parenthood. There’s no YouTube tutorial on how to see past the uncertainty of coming to age while pursuing happiness. There’s no think piece on finding your place in the family. Much like the family on stage, it sometimes takes a big life event to appreciate everyone’s perspective. The light Gurira shinned on my doorstep in Ohio, has me forever changed.
Familiar is directed by Rebecca Taichman. The cast features Ito Aghayere, Joby Earle, Melanie Nicholls-King, Roslyn Ruff, Harold Surratt, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Joe Tippett, and Tony Award winner Tamara Tunie (Spring Awakening).