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Scott's Theatre Beat: Immediate Family

June 2012

An Immediate Family with issues?  Heaven forfend!



Immediate Family by Paul Oakley Stovall explores the issues that confront families when they have been separated by time and space and the complexity of daily living.  It is not simply the physical separation that defines this family’s interactions but their emotional separation. Brilliantly directed by Phylicia Rashad with a great cast of Chicago actors, this is a comedy with dramatic punch and richness of character.


The Bryant family is an affluent African-American family from an upscale suburb of Chicago who could be living around the corner for the Obama’s.  The siblings are gathering in the house of their deceased parents to celebrate the marriage of the youngest sibling Tony, played superbly by Kamal Angelo Bolden. The house is now under the control of the Evy (Shanesia Davis) the oldest sister and keeper of the "family values.” We learn that this family lived in an imperium led first by their father and then their mother.  And as the circus that is a family wedding begins to unfold, all of the emotional baggage accumulated over the years begins to humorously open with a surprise coming from Jesse sensitively played by Phillip James Brannon.


The secret that Jesse has kept from his sister is that he has been living with a white man Kristian, beautifully played by Patrick Sarb, who also happens to be a Swede from Minneapolis and is at the wedding as the official photographer.  It also develops that Jesse wants to marry Kristian but has been afraid to ask him out of the fear of being rejected a fear that comes from his relationship with his father.


Into this funny, emotional stew are two other characters that offer wry commentary that fuels the comedic and emotional exchanges between the siblings.  Cynda Williams is excellent as Ronnie, the tightly wound half-sister who was the product of an affair had by the patriarch of the family with a white woman. She is a part of the Greek chorus to the goings-on in the gathering since she did not live with her siblings through most of the events in their lives only coming to the family as an adult.


And then there is Nina, the other part of the Greek chorus, hilariously played by J. Nicole Brooks, the lesbian next-door neighbor at whose house Kristian is staying.  She knows the secrets of the family and like a good next-door neighbor knows when to interject with a wry comment and when to retreat out the back door.


I don't want you to have the impression that this is simply a family comedy/drama about a life lived because it is much more than that, it is about the nature of relationships that paused for a time and then what happens in those relationships when there is an expectation that things will start again where they left off.  It is also about new relationships and new understandings that develop within the chaos of a family gathering. And it is done with skill and sensitivity to the nature of the characters as drawn by Stovall in his excellent and well-articulated story that is a delightful and funny twist on "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”  Watching this "Second City” tryout for a move to Broadway is time well-spent in the theatre. It should make the move because it is a good play and will most certainly find a supportive audience in the "Big Apple.”


The set, the living room, kitchen, and patio of the Bryant’s house in Hyde Park, is beautifully realized by John Iacovelli allowing the action to move seamlessly from point to point without

needing any physical changes to the staging.  Heather Gilbert’s lighting beautifully supports the set and helps set the mood of some of the scenes while moving the center of focus of the action.  The costume’s by Ana Kuzmanic complete the physical setting by complementing the time and place, and suiting the nature of each of the characters.

 ©  Scott L. Bennett, Jr. 2012

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