Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Old Globe
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

The Cast
Photo by Jim Cox
Danai Gurira's play Familiar is so jam-packed that it almost defies description. On the surface, it explores family tensions that surface on the eve of a daughter's wedding. Simple enough, only complicated by conflicting cultural traditions and the play's insistence on veering in style between drama and farce. But The Old Globe's well-cast production navigates the rapidly changing currents expertly and should leave audiences well satisfied.

It is winter in Minneapolis, and the family of Donald and Marvelous Chinyaramwira is gathering for the wedding of daughter Tendikayi (Zakiya Young), who goes by Tendi, to fiancé Chris (Lucas Hall). There's the usual scurrying as Marvelous (Cherene Snow) prepares food and Donald (Danny Johnson) tries to stay out of the way while making certain a map of their native Zimbabwe sits prominently on the fireplace mantle. Not all looks normal, however. Margaret Munyewa (Ramona Keller), Marvelous' younger sister, is sipping a glass of wine well before the cocktail hour. Daughter Nyasha (Olivia Washington) is still in her pajamas even though the bride and groom are expected at any time.

When Tendi and Chris arrive, they have in tow Marvelous' older sister Anne (Wandachristine), whom they have invited to come from Zimbabwe. The sight of Anne causes Marvelous to snarl like an animal whose territory has been invaded.

And well she should, from her perspective. Donald and Marvelous are immigrants, escaping Zimbabwe in the wake of the war of independence. They are both well-educated and have embraced Christianity. They wanted the wedding to comport with the norms of their adopted U.S. identity. But Tendi, who has a Zimbabwean name but is culturally American, and Chris, who is native-born, white, religious, and has visited Africa, wanted to introduce a Zimbabwean cultural practice into the wedding. Anne is present to engage in the roora ceremony, where the groom's brother Brad (Anthony Comis) bargains sincerely but ineptly for the privilege of Chris to marry Tendi.

This cultural mismatch sets off a series of incidents, some of them uproariously funny, that ultimately trigger cathartic disclosure of family secrets.

Director Edward Torres works on a big canvas (Walt Spangler's elegant, two-story scenic design, well aided by Alejo Vietti's costume design, Jason Lyons' lighting design, and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen's sound design). Mr. Torres also works with a big cast, many of whom are on stage at once. He manages both the play's humor and its catharsis well, and he keeps the cast, many of whom speak with heavy accents (coached by Nathan C. Crocker), clear enough that the audience can follow the gist, even if not every word is understood.

The cast, too, performs well with each other. Each cast member gamely stays present for the others, even when on the sidelines. And each endures the inevitable indignities of the twisting plot with good humor. One gets the sense that the marriage is going to be just fine, despite the cultural miscues.

Ultimately, Familiar lives up to its title in that it effectively portrays a family's dreams as triumphing over its dysfunctions, neither of which seem all that unfamiliar.

Familiar, through March 3, 2019, on The Old Globe's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in San Diego's Balboa Park, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. The performance schedule is Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. There will be an additional matinee performance on Wednesday, February 20 and no matinee performance on Saturday, February 23. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 619-23-GLOBE (234-5623), or by visiting

Additional creative team members for Familiar are Somi (Composer), Rufaro Gwarada (Cultural Consultant), Caparelliotis Casting (Casting), and Jess Slocum (Production Stage Manager).