Immediate Family Theatre Review - Smart, Funny, Honest Family Matters

L-R: Bryan Terrell Clark and Kamal Angelo Bolden in Paul Oakley Stovall’s “Immediate Family.”

Evy Bryant (Shanesia Davis) wished she didn’t have to do everything herself… (Wait, who are we kidding? She’s a very controlling person.) Not only does she have to drag her baby brother Tony (Kamal Angelo Bolden) out of bed to pick up their half-sister Ronnie from the airport; she also has to be the grown-up, the one to push this entire wedding rehearsal weekend forward. Evy understands that, now that her parents are gone, she needs to take care of things in the family, and that includes making sure the family is all in attendance for the Tony’s nuptials.

J. Nicole Brooks and Bryan Terrell Clark in Paul Oakley Stovall’s “Immediate Family,” directed by Phylicia Rashad, playing April 22 through June 7, 2015

Enter older brother Jesse (Bryan Terrell Clark), who just missed his siblings as they leave for the airport, and he is already on edge. It seems that the photographer friend Jesse volunteered to shoot Tony’s wedding is in fact his life partner out in the “real world.” Although Jesse is an out gay man in the world, his family dwells in a restrict “don’t ask don’t tell” universe where his sexuality remains an open secret.

Mark Jude Sullivan and J. Nicole Brooks (Kamal Angelo Bolden in background) in Paul Oakley Stovall’s “Immediate Family,”

Nina (J. Nicole Brooks), Jesse’s childhood friend and next door neighbor to the Bryant Family, is the first to discover his arrival. They boogie down memory land for a while, falling back into step effortlessly, despite the several years it has been since Jesse has been home. She hungrily anticipated the opportunity to hang out and hook up with Ronnie (Cynda Williams). Jesse is suddenly filled with dread to learn that his photographer friend, the one that recently proposed to him, will be staying with them, in the same house, among his family, and immediately goes to work undoing the sleeping arrangement.

L-R: Cynda Williams, Bryan Terrell Clark and Kamal Angelo Bolden in Paul Oakley Stovall’s “Immediate Family.”

Eventually all the family members are gathered in one place and Evy soon reveals herself as the queen of condescension, effortlessly making sideways jabs at Jesse about gay people and overtly to Ronnie for only being a half sister, aka, not really family. Salutations are wrapped up without anyone coming to blows. Jesse, Tony, Ronnie and Nina plan to sneak out for a quickie club night, which never happens.

L-R: Cynda Williams, Bryan Terrell Clark and Shanésia Davis in Paul Oakley Stovall’s “Immediate Family,” directed by Phylicia Rashad

Partly because of the arrival of Kristian (Mark Jude Sullivan), who unbeknownst to the family, is White, and unbeknownst to Kristian, discovers Jesse is not actually out to his family. Due to Evy strong prodding, the night out on the town is reduced to a very competitive, very traditional game of card, where everyone decides to put all their cards on the table before the night is done.

L-R: Kamal Angelo Bolden, Cynda Williams (background), Bryan Terrell Clark, Shanésia Davis, J. Nicole Brooks and Mark Jude Sullivan in Paul Oakley Stovall’s “Immediate Family.”

What this play has to offer: tons. Smart. Fun. Honest.

Paul Oakley Stovall’s Immediate Family is exactly the right tone for the hipper, wiser 21st Century audience. He juxtaposes a “classic family roles” dynamic with a “modern voice” that makes the piece both universally appealing and packs an intergenerational welcome. Similarly, director Phylicia Rashad rears performances from her cast that are energetic and accessible on every level. It is refreshing to glimpse the quandary we now face in the wake of the sexual and social equality movements. This production avoids all the obvious pitfall of playing into African-American Stereotypes or being preaching from either the left or the right. It stays exactly in the middle without shying away from the broad comedy, nor from the palpable tensions passionate people conjure. The plot of Immediate Family stays centered and balanced, without asking character to blithely surrender their beliefs or position; exactly, I suspect, like most evolved, truly loving families do.

L-R: Shanésia Davis and Mark Jude Sullivan in Paul Oakley Stovall’s “Immediate Family,” directed by Phylicia Rashad

Kudos to Cynda Williams for her brilliantly understated performance as Ronnie, the proud but wounded half-sister who refuses to surrender her place as one of her father’s children; a battle she has been fighting most of her life. Ms. Williams imbues Ronnie with a graceful gravitas in concert with her character’s bawdy sassy. Well Done.

Immediate Family, directed by Phylicia Rashad is running now through June 7th, 2015 at:

Mark Taper Forum
at the Music Center 
Downtown Los Angeles

135 North Grand Ave. 
Los Angeles, CA 90012 

www.centertheatregroup.org

 

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