Friday, June 21, 2024

Theater: “Walking Dead” Star Danai Gurira’s “Familiar” Needs a Move to Broadway


Run, don’t walk, fight to get into the last weekend of Danai Gurira’s “Familiar” off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons.

Tamara Tunie (you know her from “Law & Order” and “As the World Turns”) is exceptional and leads a stellar cast in this dramedy about a Zimbabwean family transplanted to Minnesota.

Tunie plays an MIT schooled physicist named Marvelous– and indeed, Tune is marvelous as the mother of a would be bride who has to face up to her family’s past even though she has done everything to assimilate as an American.

Gurira already has a play on Broadway– “Eclipsed” starring Lupita Nyong’o– and she’s likely to win the Tony and some other prizes for it. Television audiences will know her as Michonne from “The Walking Dead.”

Gurira was born in Iowa but her family is from Zimbabwe so yes, “Familiar” is autobiographical. She is represented in the play as Tunie’s youngest daughter, Nyasha, played by Ito Aghayere. And the play is just like Arthur Miller or Eugene O’Neill in that it illuminates the struggle of immigrants, the fight for assimilation vs. tradition. Once it was about Jews, Irish and Italians trying to fit into the U.S. It’s about time we heard from more recent generations of emigres. It’s a universal theme.

As with “Eclipsed,” “Familiar” jumps off the stage as a piece of real, exciting theater because it takes us someplace unique, where we have not been. Plus it introduces a talented cast you’d like to see move to Broadway rather than disband– it reminded me of seeing “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike” at Lincoln Center and knowing it had to be moved also. Plus there’s a wonderful set by Clint Ramos you don’t want to miss.

Kudos to director Rebecca Taichman. And shout outs to Broadway vet Myra Lucretia Taylor, Roslyn Ruff, Melanie Nicholls-King, Harold Surratt– as the family– and Joby Earle and Joe Tippett as their prospective in laws. But really, Tamara Tunie– four star performance. Manhattan Theater Club– take them in. There are colors here we haven’t seen before.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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