The Sunday News
WHILE she continues her on screen dominance in Hollywood, Zimbabwean actress Danai Gurira has not forgotten her roots as a playwright, with the latest play she penned earning rave reviews in the United States.
The play, Familiar, recently premièred at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and was received warmly by critics who praised Gurira’s ability to bring to life the trials and tribulations of Zimbabweans that migrated to the North African country.
The catalyst for the events in this family drama is the marriage of a young lawyer named Tendikayi (Lanise Antoine Shelley) to a young American named Chris (Erik Hellman). That provokes discussion as to how much homage the pending inter-racial nuptials should pay to Zimbabwean traditions, including the roora ceremony.
On one side are Marvellous Chinyaramwira (Ora Jones) and (maybe) her easy-going husband Donald (Cedric Young), Zimbabwe-born parents who’ve worked hard to achieve State side success for their two daughters, a pair that also includes Nyasha (Celeste M Cooper), an artistic spirit. On the other is Anne (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), a fearsome African matriarch who has arrived from Zimbabwe. Another family member, Margaret Munyewa (Jacqueline Williams) works to find a middle-ground, as does Eric’s sidekick younger brother, Brad (Luigi Sottile).
In its review of the play, the Chicago Tribune gave Gurira kudos for accurately portraying how the extended family played an important role in Zimbabwean life.
“Familiar is no ‘August: Osage County’ in its dissection of familial conflict. But what makes this much gentler play distinctive in its celebration of the extended African family, is its determination that parenting should be shared among all of those who can contribute to the well-being of the young.
Comedy always requires contrasts — and Gurira makes much of having this powerful Zimbabwean collective come to terms not only with the frigidity of a Minnesotan winter and the snow falling outside their door, but with their daughters becoming involved with a couple of genial Midwestern characters you might find in Fargo,” the publication wrote.
“I think Gurira is at her best as a writer when probing the terrifyingly unfamiliar,” the Chicago Tribune’s theatre critic continued, “(something) which she did so brilliantly in this city, earlier in her extraordinary career. But this is a play that surely was too close to home not to write. And this is a Hollywood star who has forgotten nothing.”