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Anacostia Playhouse Presents 'Broke-ology'

Spotlights Complexities of an African-American Family

Margaret Summers | 9/4/2013, 3 p.m.
"Broke-ology" is a word not found in any dictionary, but it’s an apt description of a fictional African-American family at ...
William King (played by G. Alverez Reid) suffers from pain in his neck due to multiple sclerosis as his oldest son Ennis (Jacobi Howard) looks on helplessly in the play "Broke-ology." (Courtesy of C. Stanley Photography)

“Broke-ology” is a word not found in any dictionary, but it’s an apt description of a fictional African-American family at the center of a play which uses the word as its title.

Written by Nathan Louis Jackson and directed by Candace L. Feldman, “Broke-ology” opened at the new Anacostia Playhouse in Southeast on Aug. 14. The play is sponsored by the Theater Alliance. The mission of the decade-old, Southeast-based alliance is to produce provocative, challenging, and socially conscious works which fully engage the community.

The term “Broke-ology”, created by one of its characters, Ennis King (played by Jacobi Howard) describes the economic and emotional condition smothering his family. “‘Broke-ology’ is a science and a mathematical equation,” Ennis explains in the play. “It’s made up of fried bologna times sidewalk sales, plus minimum wage, minus health insurance, divided by an adequate education, equaling brokeness times being alive.”

For Ennis and his Kansas City-based family, “brokeness” is a devastating one-two punch of poverty and racism. His father William (G. Alverez Reid), strong, proud and self-sufficient, exhausted himself working two jobs to support his wife Sonia (Tricia Homer), Ennis, and Ennis’ younger brother Malcolm (Marlon Russ). Sonia gives up her dreams of becoming a visual artist and moving with her family from their decaying neighborhood. Instead, she raises her sons at home on William’s limited earnings installing home heating and air conditioning systems. Many of William’s customers couldn’t pay him. In one of the play’s lighter moments, William recalls one customer’s “payment” being a cooked possum. “But you told us it was chicken!” Malcolm protests. “It was the only way I could make you and Ennis eat it,” says William.

After Sonia’s sudden death from cancer, William worked even harder as a single parent. The adult Ennis becomes a single father himself when his girlfriend gives birth to their son. Ennis struggles to support his family on the meager wages he makes in a fast-food restaurant. Only Malcolm seems unaffected. He graduates from the University of Connecticut with a master’s degree and lands a job with a local branch of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The family is subjected to more “brokeness” when William is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The disease attacks the muscles in his left eye so much that the eye crosses, and he has to wear an eye patch. Barely able to see, William stops working, and is forced to depend on his sons for care. “I used to work 60 hours a week to take care of my sons. Now, they’re taking care of me,” William says plaintively. “I stay home taking expensive medicines that don’t work.”

As William weakens, his memory rapidly declines, and the pains in his neck, arms and legs intensify, Ennis and Malcolm face a dilemma: Which son will be William’s primary caregiver? Malcolm weighs returning to Connecticut to launch a career as an environmental activist. He makes Ennis accompany him on visits to assisted living facilities where they might place their father. Ennis feels guilty that he has less time to spend with William due to his own familial responsibilities, but opposes placing his father in assisted living. William becomes increasingly despondent over losing Sonia, the love of his life, even though she died 15 years ago. The family appears stuck in a permanent state of “brokeness” it can never escape.

“This is a very powerful play,” said Jeff Hunter, 46, of Severna Park, Md. following a recent performance. “All the acting was stellar.”

“The play really held your attention,” said Margaret Wells, 47, of Bel Air, Md.

Dyane Hill Boone, 60, of Baltimore, Md. said the play “drew me into the story, and made me forget that I was watching actors on a stage.”

“It’s a story about African-American men as family,” said Stephanie Briggs, 60, who also hails from Baltimore. “Women in the play were almost secondary. You saw men talking about family issues in ways that you don’t see in other plays. These are usually problems we women deal with and men don’t.”

The storyline provided audiences with lots to consider.

“I thought about my own parents, who are in their 70s,” said Alison McNeil, 35, of Hyattsville, Md. “The play made me think about how my sister and I will care for them as they get older.”

“Broke-ology’s” Anacostia Playhouse run has been extended to Sept.15. For more information regarding the play and future Theater Alliance productions, visit the organization's website at www.theateralliance.com.