Broke-Ology @ Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, New York

cast list
Francois Battiste, Crystal A. Dickinson, Alano Miller, Wendell Pierce

directed by
Thomas Kail
Broke-Ology is an exciting and engaging new play by Nathan Louis Jackson, now at the Mitzi E. Newhouse stage at Lincoln Center. It tells the story of the King household, an economically stressed black family from Kansas City, struggling with the demands of earning a living and the responsibilities of love.

The play begins with a preface scene in which the Sonia and William King await the birth of their first son. It is a heartwarming snapshot of a generally happy couple working together to make ends meet. Wendell Pierce as William King and Cyrstal A. Dickson as Sonia, have an easy grace with each other that speaks volumes in the quiet moments. The play then restarts in scene 2, 27 years later when the two sons, Ennis (Francois Battiste) and Malcolm (Alano Miller), reunite with their father for the summer after Malcolms Masters Program.
William Kings life has changed drastically in the intervening 27 years. His wife has passed away and he has deteriorated physically due to MS, but his sons are the source of pride and love. As the sons, Mr. Battiste and Mr. Miller play off each other excellently, falling into the natural rhythms of brothers. Their arguments, agreements and insecurities are played off wonderfully as if these two have really known each other their whole lives.

Ennis has been taking care of his father but is about to be a father himself. He expects Malcolm to return home and to be the caretaker for their father. For his part, Malcolm is torn by the desire to return to University to teach and the responsibility of family. As for William King, this strong father has lost his wife and raised his sons and now has become a burden on their lives. Wendell Pierce portrays the fathers conflicting emotions beautifully; he is proud of the job he did raising the boys but, now, embarrassed by his inability to care for himself. Worse, he has begun to have visions of his deceased wife.

This could easily be the set up for an angst-filled, overly dramatic evening, but the playwright and the director, Thomas Kail, keep the show from turning maudlin. A lot of credit here must go to Wendell Pierces excellent turn as William King. He takes on the physical and emotional challenges to his manhood honestly, with both anger and acceptance. This is a man with spirit who finds a way to move his family forward.

Sets by Donyale Werle contribute greatly to the warmth and real feel of the piece. It is a busy, poor home, but full of the detritus of well-lived lives. You can feel these characters growing organically within this place.

There are a few missteps in the piece. The symbolism is a little heavy, from the characters’ surnames to the Just My Imagination music when Sonia is seen, among others. But quibbling about some artistic choices misses the point. Broke-Ology is a wonderfully accessible piece of theater and a great night out.

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