IMMEDIATE FAMILY: The Way Things Are “Supposed To Be”, But Aren’t

Paul Oakley Stovall’s Immediate Family, directed by Phylicia Rashad, is now playing at the Mark Taper Forum. Don’t miss this sensitive, very funny, and oh-so-real depiction of a family coming to grips with things not going as expected. And, even more importantly, the people they love not being who they thought they were. They fight very loudly at times, but in the end this play shows just what it takes to work things out.

Spoiler Alert:  If you plan to see the play, don’t read further.

Families are complex units. Sometimes mistakes are made, they break apart, and there’s seemingly no putting them back together again, as I discussed in my last post on Russ and American Crime. Yet, although the Bryant family is on the edge sometimes – they seem to have the glue. That glue is put to some real tests when they reunite for Tony’s wedding.

The Bryant family loves each other, but that love isn’t to be trusted completely with certain sensitive secrets. It’s especially hard to trust Evy. Evy’s the oldest of the three siblings. There’s Evy, Jessie, and Tony. And, well, then there’s Ronnie. Ronnie is just sort of part of the family – at least according to Evy who barely tolerates her. She’s the product of their preacher father’s affair with a white woman.  His affair is bad enough. But – a white woman makes it worse.

This challenges many things for Evy. There’s the importance of Black identity, to be sure. There’s the fact that Evy has a very difficult time when things aren’t how she thinks they should be. She comes completely unglued when confronted with the fact that the wedding photographer friend Jessie brought home is actually his boyfriend. Jessie isn’t supposed to be gay. He’s certainly not supposed to be in love with a Swedish white man.

But, there’s always much more than meets the eye in any family dynamic, and that’s certainly true of Evy. It’s not so much that the people she loves disappoint her. She’s really battling a lot of difficult feelings that make her want to have absolute control over everything and everyone.

She was supposed to be the only daughter. She’s jealous of her brothers’ relationship with the much more hip and accepting Ronnie. She’s competitive. She’s threatened. Evy feels like she’s losing everyone. She’s felt that way for a long time. Now, her husband’s gone. Tony is moving out to live with his new bride. And, she felt like she lost her beloved brother, Jessie, long ago to Jessie’s best friend and next-door neighbor – the no holds barred “out” lesbian, Nina.

Nina accepts him for who he is. This is the lesson Evy needs to learn when she can give up trying to hold on to everyone so tight and trying to be so big and brave and responsible. First, though, she has to feel her sadness. She finally does when she breaks down to the understanding Kristian, Jessie’s boyfriend.

What’s the real glue that holds the Bryant family together? It’s not simply love. When it gets right down to it – it’s Evy’s ability to finally hear what’s important to Jessie. (Even thought it takes yelling and screaming at each other for Jessie to get through to her). And, when she hears, to accept that if she tries to tell him who to be – he isn’t happy. But, she also needs to see that she’s much more at risk of losing the ones she loves if she can’t let them be who they are.

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