Surgery Date: 05-17-19
Parents: Director Sophiyaa Nayar, Playwright Sam Kebede
Siblings: Simon Gebremedhin, Gabrielle Lott-Rogers, Freedom Martin, Joseph Primes
Surname: Definition Theatre Company
Address: 2433 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
Symptoms: traditional, modern, tramodernal, assimilation blues
Diagnosis: Domestic smiling
The Kifles are the most darling black Americans behind the modern white picket fence since A Raisin in the Sun. Joseph Primes as Mr. Kifle is occasionally out back tootin’ his McCiggies before his boys get home from playing basketball or being successfully deferred from Harvard. He jostles their robust manhood with old school wrestling matches every now and then. He’s just too damn proud his new men. I was as tickled as his sons from his throbbing traditionalist optimism.
Mr. Kifle is the king of daddy-os with his skinny-fat beer belly and in-between afro. He is truly the senior papa of suburbia. All he needs is a sassy apron for those backyard BBQs with the Joneses and he will be the new Chief Americano. I could just barely tell that Joseph Primes was affecting his voice with a thick Ethiopian accent. So damn sexy he brought a tear to my eye.
The show started earlier than the official curtain up with Johnathan Kifle (Simon Gebremedhin) jammin’ to 2010 bangers like Katy Perry. John is almost as sexy as Papa, with all the deliciously disgusting awkward movements a 17 year old nerd can produce when provoked with Katy Perry. Simon Gebremedhin… is, The Black Napoleon Dynamite, if not worse/better. He just about dances as well as him too. I almost gave him my handkerchief.
The playbill was a resume: boring, blank, except for Sophiyaa Nayar’s essay on the work. My goodness have I been thirstier than a bankrupt hooker this year for an artistic impulse from a playbill. Did you know that Actor X is excited for their X Theater Chicago debut? If it wasn’t for the enlightening essay, I would have likely given up playbills cold turkey.
Freedom Martin as Daniel Kifle is John’s suave antithesis brother. He likes water bottle vodka and slow walks on the beach. Daniel is a too cool punk… that cares. In this instance it wasn’t cliche. Freedom Martin was legitimately experiencing the character, or else the playwright’s words would have likely miscarried. Bad boy roles are sad when they’re aped. They often are. Sad, bro.
The patient’s frame was electrifying. The stage had basic cube edges that outlined the main room. It lit up at heated moments with an instant symphony of different lights that one wouldn’t expect for a black box theater. It was literally cool, never cattle prodding pointless action. I wondered at first if it was too telling… it wasn’t. The acting and Nayar’s directing gave simple ideas force in this low concept play.
The low-key to high-key misogyny was accessible but clever. Gabrielle Lott-Rogers as Elizabeth Kifle was the best-fit choice for Kebede’s Elizabeth. Liz was the perfect paradox to live out the implications of burgeoning female dignity in suburbia where Papa still reigns.
Elizabeth Kifle’s sweet but never saccharine mommy-o-ism took my heart during high notes of domestic pathos while evoking my sobriety during her own clench for respect. Mr. Kifle consistently plays the “I planted the Tree of Life under your feet.” card while such a play is embarrassingly inaccessible to Mrs. Kifle, despite her owning half the house with her day job. Her vanity to clout a patriarchal respect is amplified by the contrast of her soft but competent personality. Gabrielle Lott-Rogers is Nayar’s secret sauce as Elizabeth Kifle is Kebede’s.
From this subplot, the actors combusted with the most deft power plays amongst each other that I’ve ever seen. It’s a wonder how they had so much energy and synergy for these basic, familial scenes. Nayar and her actors have the talent to create the most striking, natural moments from a simple story.
The audience watched the family watch too much TV. Yep. I’ll get the scalpel. Too much Jeopardy is bad for the soul. Perhaps it was necessary to lead into the Ethiopian, shoulder thrusting dance maneuvers. Again, more sexiness from Mama and Papa.
The familial theme was a bit cloy, but healthy, as it naturally is. In the beginning, it hurt the story because it elongated the exposition: e.g., watch the cute family do more cute family things that don’t move the plot forward with abrasion.
The worst error is Kebede’s ability to back up, or even squarely draw up, Mr. Kifle’s mysterious flaws. The story is isolated in the present because Mr. Kifle, as the blessed, central, “Tree of Life,” has his backstory missing and his tomorrowstory missing. They came from Ethiopia. They are traditional. They want a darling life in America. Jr.’s leaving for Big College. Okay, but it’s not enough, particularly to explain Mr. Kifle’s snake in the grass. His demons were seemingly born on stage. A single walk on character could cure this by giving him some context outside of his home. Where does he even work? Does he? I missed it.
Playwright Kebede, however, hits the mark with Mr., Jr., and Mrs. It must be their own nonfiction story, because it barely exists in the brief transition of cultural assimilation from Africa to America. The window of opportunity for this one generation story is as skinny as Jr. Does anyone notice that these stories are predominantly dated? One day, there will be one, assimilated, uninterrupted America.
As such, it represents a true masterpiece in modern American theater: combating the on-going battle of compromising Old America, New America, and EthiopianAmerica. The patient is in near perfect health.