Though laced with humorous side notes and some clever banter, Nathan Louis Jackson’s new play, Broke-ology, pounds the pavement with honorable issues of political and medical concern. It does this in a way that seems secondary to the heart of the story which involves a family in Kansas City who must reason with the responsibility of caring for their father stricken with multiple sclerosis. Two brothers seemingly get along while they chat about life’s purpose. Their mother, played by Crystal A. Dickinson, died 15 years ago, and dad is having vivid nightmares of his wife which progressively leads him to accidentally injure himself. The oldest brother, Ennis, played by Francois Battiste doesn’t want to be around his pregnant wife, because he would rather hang with his boys. Malcolm, the youngest brother, played by Alano Miller, must decide whether to follow his bright aspirations to practice law in Connecticut or be the helping hand to his older brother in dealing with their father’s illness. Both boys are right in their quest for escaping, but at what cost? Does Ennis resent his brother for skipping town? Does Malcolm worry more about his dad’s health or his own future? It is a gamble on opportunity, and we get to see just a slice of this family’s dilemmas.

Nathan Louis Jackson who is a Julliard trained playwright transplanted from Manhattan, KS has penned words for TV scripts including NBC’s cop drama “Southland.” He writes his characters with a true-blooded ease and examines sibling tension with feeling. There is trust among these people, and the playwright has earned it with his appealing look at a poor black family trying to keep life stimulating in Middle America.

When asked in an interview about the origin of the name “Broke-ology,” Jackson replied,
“It’s a concept that the older brother comes up with as a science: The science of being broke. And it was fitting to me because of the characters’ economic situation and broke-ology is making it with what you have. As well as it’s a funny title.”

The set, designed by Donyale Werle reminded me of the sitcom “Roseanne” with it’s subtle and ordinary charm. The performances were mostly well-balanced, Battiste, at the most comfortable level. Wendell Pierce who plays the father, William King, has the capacity to play King Lear, and I kept wanting him to burst out in a classical monologue. Pierce who stars in HBO’s “The Wire,” remains a friend to the audience. We feel for his character, because he is a lover of life and afraid of his illness without the care from his family. He deteriorates before our very eyes, and it is clear why we want him to survive.

There were times when it seemed the play was about a specific character, and I kept wondering whose character is really driving the play. In this case, the individual stories were so well illuminated and seamlessly blended by director, Thomas Kail, that by the end you have a nice sense of who these people are. They are, in fact, characters, but in Jackson’s play you are witness to the underplay of reality in suburban America on the outskirts of banality and poverty. In an interview, director Kail commented, “This play is about a family that loves each other and that is doing the best they can with the hand they have been dealt.” Not an easy equation for a family already hopelessly broke.

Broke-ology is playing at Lincoln Center Theater through November 22. For more information, including schedules and to purchase tickets, go to their website HERE.

Kila Packett

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