Alano Miller, Francois Battiste
Crystal A. Dickenson, Wendell Pierce
Francois Battiste, Wendell Pierce, Alano Miller
Review by Tulis McCall
5 Oct 2009
What a pleasure. What a total pleasure to sit in a theatre and watch a play about a family and feel intrigued challenged and moved.
Broke-ology is the story of a family in Kansas City that lives in a neighbor hood that has seen better and worse days. So has the family.
William King (Wendell Pierce) is mourning the loss of his wife Sonia (Crystal A. Dickinson) while at the same time he celebrates his relationship with his two sons Ennis (Francois Battiste) and Malcolm (Alano Miller).
Malcolm has returned home for the summer to take a summer job at the EPA. Ennis works at a local barbeque joint and is expecting his first child. Their reunion is bittersweet because of their father’s health – William is in the first stages of Multiple Sclerosis - as well as the choice Malcolm must make regarding his career. He can stay in Kansas City for his family or return to University where opportunity awaits.
What is remarkable about this play is the even pace that Jackson uses to let his story unfold. Nothing happens fast in this family until push comes to shove. And push does come to shove for each one of them. One by one they drop their guard and reveal how life has painted them into a corner. Enis, the inventor of Broke-ology (for which he has an equation: fried bologna multiplied by sidewalk sales, plus minimum wage, minus health insurance, divided by adequate education, equals Brokeness multiplied by being alive equals BROKE-OLOGY) is a smart man in a dead end job. Malcolm will hurt someone whether he decides to stay or leave. William’s quality of life choices are evaporating while we watch. Even Sonia, who has long passed, returns in William’s dreams and tells him not only of her love, but also of her disappointment. A small house in a bad neighborhood was not what she imagined, and there is nothing he can do to lift her burden because it is not his to remove. There is nothing any of them can do for anyone else except stand straight and live their own lives.
And this they do. Lead by the remarkable performance of Francois Battiste, this cast literally stands tall. Under Thomas Kail’s direction these actors have developed an economy of action and speech that lets the text shine.
The King family frowns on waste in any form: time, money, silence and most importantly life. Like any other family – yours, mine – they make decisions that take them down different paths, and from those vantage points they look at each other and wonder how they got to where they are.
Life happens. That’s the deal. And in the very capable hands of Nathan Louis Jackson we get to go along for the ride with the King family. We feel the joy, we take the blows, and ultimately we think of our own families. All of us so, so strange. All of us so, so connected.
Broke-ology is a play worthy of your company.
CHARLES ISHERWOOD for NEW YORK TIMES says, "A well-observed but underpowered play."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ for NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says, Earnest but unconvincing drama."
FRANK SCHEK for NEW YORK POST says, "The play has a deeply lived-in feel ..., though it fails to be galvanizing."
DAVID SHEWARD for BACK STAGE says, "Moving new play."
SAM THIELMAN for VARIETY says, "The play's final moments...seem to let everyone off the hook in a way that isn't true to the world Jackson has worked so hard to create. But the world itself is one worth exploring."