Thursday February 21 6:25 am

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

"Familiar" - Review by Alan Bresloff


We are in a beautiful suburban home in Minnesota, 2011. The home/set (Kristen Robinson, you are a genius) appears to be a working home with kitchen, bathroom and space. This is an upper-middle class family with all the trappings that come with that status. The family is a Zimbabwean-American and although they are living the American life, their homeland tugs at their sleeve on this occasion. This is stronger in Donald (deftly handled by Cedric Young), who keeps trying to put up a memory of Zimbabwe where his wife , Marvelous (the always incredible Ora Jones) has a wreath. Oh, yes, it is winter and of course in Minnesota, snowing.

Their daughter, Tendikay (the lovely Lanise Antoine Shelly) , an attorney, is home for her wedding to Chris (Erik Hellman, who is white) and this is the day of the rehearsal dinner where both families get to meet. The other characters in these families are the brides younger sister Nyasha (the feisty Celeste M. Cooper) and her two aunts: Margaret (the always reliable Jaqueline Williams) and Anne ( played to perfection by Cheryl Lynn Bruce). It is Anne who makes this story something very intense as she has come from “home” and it is her desire that the family open up the past and follow the traditions of her country ( or should we say THEIR country). By the way, in order to follow these rules, the groom must have a spokesperson during the rituals, so Chris enlists the aid of younger brother Brad (an incredible performance by Luigi Sottile, who has great comic timing).

I will try not to give away any of the story as it is a key to your enjoyment to be surprised by the secrets that come out during this two-hours-ten minutes ( with an intermission) of wonderful story telling. Smoothly directed by Danya Taymor, this story unfolds with solid acting by a dynamic and very energetic cast. While much of the story appears to be about the nuptials, it is really a story of the family and its hidden secrets. Steppenwolf has always had great stories about dysfunctional families and in many cases the discussions that follow may have educated some audience members in a way that they had not expected. That is the beauty of this company. This story is in many ways the same, with the exception of their back story is one that reaches out to another country and way of life.

Again, I will not divulge what you will find out, but I will tell you that the trip is well worth the ticket. I would have to think that as our world gets smaller and smaller and more cultures come together, these types of events do take place. Perhaps more than ever. This family is a loving one, but the secrets of their past are almost like being in a prison and once you see exactly what they are, you will find yourself asking “what would I do in this circumstance?). As a parent and now a grandparent, on my way home, my thoughts turned to this. I can share with you that the ending is one of happiness and one that will leave you with a “warm and fuzzy” feeling.

The tech aspects of this production, as always were sparkling. Lighting (Marcus Doshi), sound (Justin Ellington, who also did the music direction), costumes (Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene) and the original music (Somi). As I said earlier, the direction by Danya Taymor is flawless and once again, as there are scenes of an intimate nature, there is an intimacy consultant (Sasha Smith) who does a great job. There is no mention of who did the props, but whoever did, great job. Michelle Lopez-Rios handled the dialect work so that the cast had the sound of Africans.

“Familiar” will continue at Steppenwolf Theatre located at 1650 N. Halsted thru January 13th with performances as follows:

Wednesdays 7:30 p.m. (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.


12/9 American Sign Language Interpretation 7:30 p.m.

12/13 Open captioning at 7:30 p.m. and then on 12/29 for the 3 p.m. performance

Audio Description and touch tour 12/23- 1:30 for the touch-tour and 3 p.m. for the audio described performance.

Tickets range from $20-$109 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 312335-1650 or online at

Street parking is available as well as valet and Steppenwolf Garage. Don’t forget, the theater now has a Front Bar where one can grab something to eat prior to or after the show.