Before I went to go watch the play Familiar with my school, I watched the movie Black Panther. Then, I went and watched Familiar and I had no clue what to expect. Danai Gurira, or General Okoye from Black Panther, wrote Familiar. I walked in the theater expecting a boring play, but I found a diamond in the rough.
The play has a little bit of a slow start, just some dialogue between a couple characters. The dialogue built the characters and through this I saw that this is not a cliché play. The play revolves around Tendi’s wedding, daughter of Donald and Marvelous, niece of Anne and Margaret, sister of Nyasha, and fiancé of Chris. Tendi, the eldest daughter of the Zimbabwean family, is getting married to a Caucasian man. The play takes place in the family house in Minnesota.
The first scene was peaceful until Nyasha, one of our protagonists, came downstairs and started talking with Marvelous, another of one of our protagonists, about their culture. They were arguing whether they should have a Roora ceremony or a normal, American wedding. However, as Tendi, Chris, and Anne arrive, the meaning of “normal” changes. Because they were Zimbabwean, a Roora ceremony is “normal” to them. I actually loved this scene because it gave the play momentum. In this scene, Aishe Keita, the actor that played Nyasha, played her role perfectly as an angry daughter, questioning her own background and why they had stopped “a beautiful culture.” Her role really highlighted the cultural background part of this play.
Fast forward to the end, the resolution is amazing. Taibi Magar, the director, uses blocking to orchestrate the last scene, where we see Donald and Marvelous dancing to Nyasha’s song. I could tell Magar is a little bit of a romantic through the dance. The tension builds with every small thing that happened, whether it be a sour face or an argument that ends with deafening silence. Familiar brings up questions of identity and culture as the family begins to remember who they are and where they come from.
Would I recommend this to a student? Yes, I would. Plays like Familiar give voice to the black community. It shows that plays aren’t just for white people. It can be for black people too. The play also reflects Danai Gurira’s past as her friends and family inspired her to write Familiar. I went in the theater expecting a boring play but I found myself laughing, holding my breath during a dispute, and I felt lots of shivers down my spine. Familiar exceeded my expectations.
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This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Cleveland High School. It was edited by Cleveland HS teachers and the TeenTix Press Corps Manager, Mariko Nagashima.