Midwestern African-American family, the soothing sounds of soul music and the love of a good game of dominoes, put them together, and you have the Kitchen Theatre Company’s latest production, “Broke-ology.” The play, written by up-and-coming playwright Nathan Louis Jackson, tells the story of a family that may not have much money, but holds hearts full of love.
The show begins with William King (Alexander Thomas) and Sonia King (Ronica V. Reddick) in 1982 while they are expecting their first child. It is made clear fairly quickly that the Kings are not very wealthy, but they make their happiness where they can by supporting and comforting each other through rough patches.
The story then jumps forward 26 years where the family now consists of William and his two grown sons, Ennis (Chad Carstarphen) and Malcolm (Ohene Cornelius). Malcolm has just returned from graduate school, Ennis now has a child on the way, and William has multiple sclerosis. Due to his father’s illness, Malcolm is faced with the decision to stay home and tend to him or to go back to Connecticut where his dream job is.
While some of the jokes may fall flat at times, the production is full of real, genuine moments that feel as though they can occur within any family. These moments help create the strong family dynamic the story conveys. While playing a game of dominoes and eating their
breakfast, the family exchanges dialogue quickly but carefully, exuding a rhythm that the family possesses. Because of the raw nature of these intimate scenes, the audience may forget that they are in a theater.
As a new playwright, Jackson brings his spin on the classic story about a family with a specific and insightful knowledge of the world despite their lack of wealth. In a moment that Sonia and William share, she explains that while he may want to, her husband cannot make her happy all of the time. She explains that what matters is that they feel their pain and get through it
together. Another telling moment occurs during a scene between Malcolm and Ennis where Malcolm talks about the notion of feeling stuck, emotionally, between the two types of lives he has experienced.
Between director Rachel Lampert and sound designer Lesley Greene, the production featured sounds and music that helped tell the story of each character. Ennis’ ringtone — heard multiple times representing the constant
calling of his girlfriend — was an up-to-date hip-hop tune with a heavy bass sound. When wanting to remember Sonia, William plays songs by The Temptations to dance and sing to while he is alone. The transitions between scenes used similar R&B and Motown music that are traits to both the characters and the time in which they live.
Set designer David L. Arsenault created a space with tight corners, reflecting the Kings’ financial situation, while still managing to make a place that looked like home, with some clutter strewn about and board games on the shelves. The room looks kept but well-worn with out-of-date furniture and a warm yellow color that livens the walls. Keeping true to the Kings, the sets show that home is where the heart is.
The story of the Kings is filled with laughter and heartache, although it stays enticing and
intelligent. “Broke-ology” shows that a person — or a family — with very little can still be rich with knowledge and love.
“Broke-ology” will run through April 22 at the Kitchen Theatre.