Brokeology – Review

20 Aug

There are two elements that prevent Brokeology (at Lincoln Center) from being great theatre; the direction and the play.  The play, by Nathan Louis Jackson is the story of a small family (African American) in Kansas City.  It is a very straightforward tale of a father (Wendell Pierce) in failing health, and his grown sons (Alano Miller and Francois Battiste) fumbling to plan his long term care.  This probably could be an interesting conceit had the characters been written with more depth and the family dynamics better exposed.  There are very large holes in the story which make it difficult to care for the family and its journey.  Why does the younger son have a Masters Degree from UConn and the older son is a fry cook and unwed father still living in his hometown?  Why is the father whose religion is his marriage to his deceased wife, so blase about his eldest not marrying the mother of his grandchild?
Some of these holes could have been offset with better direction.  Thomas Kail (In The Heights) is probably more suited for a musical stage.  There are no attempts to connect the actors to each other on the stage.  The pacing is so deadened as to weaken any momentum and hence dramatic tension that might be eeked out from the script.  Mr. Pierce (a very enjoyable actor) is not directed in any way that alludes to the progression of his disease.  Were it not for some special effects, we might never be aware of his deterioration.  This is a problem for a plot device that hinges on the sons making a decision about their father by summer’s end.  Mr. Miller is a fine actor with a lovely stage presence, who as the younger high achieving son is given little assistance from the script or director.  He is placid and never conveys any inner conflict about his “should I stay, or should I go” decision.  There is a hint in the script that he is to be the softer more communicative son of the two, but the direction did nothing to illuminate that fact.  Crystal Dickinson is delightful as the often dead mother of the family.  She need only show up from time to time to remind us of the guiding light that she was for this family.  The real stand-out of this ensemble, and the reason to see this play is Francois Battiste.  He is a mutlilayered heartbreaking dynamo, that claws his way out of the stagnation of this production.  It will remain a mystery as to why he, and only he, comes across as a fully formed character.  I know exactly what makes him tick, even with a rather contrived plot line.  There were moments throughout the production that made me wonder if the director really understood the play.  The first Act opens with the (alive) wife surprising her husband with homemade T-shirts.  Even though they were pre-set on the curtainless stage, I had difficulty making out what they were supposed to spell out and what their point was.  It is only later in the script where we learn that the wife had great artistic aspirations and had dropped out of college.  There is nothing in her character that would have us believe that she was delusional about her talents.  Why not have the costumer or set designer make those t-shirts fabulous?  The woman wanted to paint murals rife with political statements, and the shirts were at best monotonous.  Counter to this was the perfect set and lighting of this play.  The working class Kansas City home had its outer edges exposed in the thrust theatre.  Fragments of insulation and patchy lawn were slightly visible.  It was a lovely subtle touch.  The costuming was not as subtle as the elder son was dressed as “gangster lite” and the younger as “prep school holiday.”
This production continues to baffle me in many ways.  I don’t entirely understand how it made it to Lincoln Center nor do I understand the full (but odd) house on Saturday night.  I have never been to a production that had 50% Caucasians over age 75 and 50% African Americans (of various ages) as its audience.  I believe that composite actually explains a great deal about this production’s journey.  This play was clearly marketed to this particular audience.  I don’t know where or how (as I am not a member of either group.)  Clearly the firm mandated with this task should be lauded.  The audience showed (some 20-30 minutes late) and stayed.  They did not respond or seem terribly interested, but of course they gave the performers a standing ovation.  It was during this ovation that the tears flowed down my face.  Wendell Pierce stood on the apron of that stage, free of script and direction, his body and face were never more expressive and he broke my heart.  As the lump rose higher and higher in my throat, I ached for what could have been, with such a talented cast.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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