Immediate Family at the Mark Taper Forum

Photo by Craig Schwartz

Playwright Paul Oakley Stovall's lighthearted family comedy would be right at home as a TV sitcom with the deletion of a few swear words. It trods the familiar territory of a young man returning home and coming out to his family, with the inevitable strife that his homosexuality provokes. That said, Stovall has a strong comedic sense and a sharp eye for character, which makes for an entertaining and fast-paced evening.

When Jesse (Bryan Terrell Clark) returns to his family home in Chicago for his younger brother Tony's (Kamal Angelo Bolden) wedding, he is hiding a secret from his relatives -- he is planning to marry his partner Kristian (Mark Jude Sullivan). Jesse is reluctant to come out to the family, especially his sister Evy (Shanesia Davis), who is still living in their parents' house and is following in the spiritual footsteps of their father, who was a preacher.

As it turns out, most of the family already knew that Jesse was gay, and aren't surprised to learn that he has a partner. In fact, his half-sister Ronnie (Cynda Williams), who is the daughter of a white woman who their father got pregnant, is one hundred percent behind Jesse's decision, especially since it is sure to provoke her arch-rival Evy. Providing the running comic commentary on the internecine strife is
family friend Nina (J. Nicole Brooks), who pokes fun at the rampant hypocrisy of the whole bunch.

Despite the tried-and-true premise of the coming home/coming out story, Stovall goes for the comedy, with only light touches of messaging here and there. Brooks is a delightful whirlwind of comic energy and Bolden, Sullivan and Williams each have excellent comic turns. Clark and Davis are solid counterpoints and add a few more serious touches to the production. Director Phylicia Rashad expertly guides the actors and deftly finds the humor and comic timing that moves the play briskly along