Kenny Leon, director extraordinaire, has done it again. This time, it’s Broke-ology at his own True Colors Theatre Company at the stylish Southwest Arts Center. The regional premiere of Nathan Louis Jackson’s comedy/drama about two sons deciding what to do about their father, who is deteriorating from multiple sclerosis, has an impressive, powerhouse cast.
Set in modern day Kansas City, Broke-ology is a term coined by son Ennis – literally the science of being broke. Ennis (Enoch King) works as s short-order cook, has a baby on the way with his demanding girlfriend and looks after ailing father, William (Afemo Omilami). The other son, Malcolm (Eric J. Little), has been away studying environmental issues and plans to take a job with the EPA in Kansas City, but once he returns home, he decides he’d rather be back on the east coast.
Jasmine Guy, who bookends each of the two acts, is ethereal as William’s late wife, Sonia. Her ghost appears to William as his health declines, and their tender exchanges are melancholy and touching, especially during an inspired dance number to The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” Omilami plays William with precision and devastating honesty, fully inhabiting a character whose past and future are on a collision course.
As son Ennis, it’s Enoch King’s impressive comedic skills (he is hilarious!) that keep the play from sinking under its own dramatic weight. Ennis is played broadly for laughs in the first act, but King brings a complex set of emotions later in the play where it’s revealed that his humor is a coping mechanism to hide the fear that life is on the verge of overwhelming him.
Eric J. Little’s tortured Malcolm is the catalyst for much of what occurs in the play, as he returns home changed by his time in college. He even has trouble understanding what his former friends in the old neighborhood are saying. Ennis says his brother has been around too many white people, and it’s amazing to watch Little transform – his body language, his speech pattern, his use of slang – from almost uptight to his former self as he spends the summer in his childhood home.
When the brothers spar over whether or not to send their father to a nursing home late in the second act, there’s an immediacy and truth to their words that families grapple with on a daily basis.
Broke-olgy is lightning bolt theatre. Lightning fast delivery, bolt-from-the-dark-of-night revelations in the form of dreams, inanimate objects that provoke, and a hint of magical realism draw you into this simple, yet complex story.
Kudos must also go to set designer Kat Conley, lighting designer Andre C. Allen and sound designer Todd Kriedler for creating a “real” environment on stage for the story to take place. The set beautifully reflects a sense of being “stuck:” a front door laden with bars for safety (ostensibly), but there is a palpable sense of being locked-in. Billowing streams of curtains suggest the sails of a faraway boat, a rainbow, a shroud and, hauntingly, a green dress William once bought for Sonia.
What Kenny Leon and the playwright get so right in Broke-olgy is the essence of what all human beings long for – to be needed, validated, cared for, loved. This is must-see theatre.
Broke-olgy runs through Feb. 20. For tickets and more information, visit www.truecolorstheatre.org.