Friday, November 07, 2014

"Generations" at The Soho Rep - A Stirring Poem Play by Debbie Tucker Green

As soon as my feet touched the gritty surface of the floor of performance space at the Soho Rep on Walker Street, I knew that this innovative theater company had once again completely transformed its space to enhance the telling of a unique story.  The audience enters a working kitchen of a three generation South African family.

Here is the description of the poem play that is "Generations":

"You’re invited into a kitchen in a South African township where a fragrant meal is being prepared. As they cook, three generations of a close-knit family banter, share stories and food. Both urgent and exuberant, Debbie Tucker Green’s formally daring play tackles what’s transmitted and lost through generations of a family—and a nation."

A young man enters the family's home and asks a poignant question of an eligible young female member of the clan: "Can you cook?"  The consonants explode out of the young man's mouth like the popping of the onions that are being sauteed a few feet away in the kitchen where three generations of the family's women are each contributing to the cooking of the family dinner."He asked me if I could cook!"  It becomes clear as each member of the family chimes in with their repetition of the phrase - or a response to the phrase - that this question of whether a young woman can cook signals the beginning of the courtship ritual.  "That is how your grandfather began with me!"

The audience is seated in a variety of chairs similar to ones that would be available in a simple South African home, and interspersed among the audience are chorus members who occasionally break out in song, sung beautifully primarily in Zulu.  They sing a litany of names.  There is both celebration and mourning in their hauntingly lovely singing.

As the phrases about learning to cook keep being tossed from one family member to another like a game of poetic "Hot Potato" we notice that one by one, family members disappear and join the chorus on the periphery.

Thuli Dumakude as Grandmother
Jonathan Peck as Grandfather
Soho Rep

The picture shown above depicts a moment in the play when the good natured teasing that has gone back and forth between couples and among generations gives way to wistful reflection and tenderness as Grandmother sighs, "I really miss them."  And it becomes clear what has been happening.  While AIDS is never mentioned explicitly in this play, its shadow hangs in the air of the kitchen as pungently as does the aroma of the sizzling onions.This play poem is indeed both a celebration of what is transmitted from generation to generation and an ululation for what has been ripped away. 

"Generations" reunites playwright Debbie Tucker Green and director Leah C. Gardiner following their 2011 Obie award-winning production of "Born Bad" and features a 13-person choir led by
Bongi Duma (Broadway’s The Lion King).

Set Design by Arnulfo Maldonado, Lighting Design by Matt Frey, Sound Design by Matt Tierney, Costume Design by Ásta Bennie Hostetter, Props & Set Dressing by George Hoffmann & Greg Kozatek, Dialect Coach: Ron Kunene, Musical Instrument Designer: Anne Demenkoff

Featuring: Shyko Amos, Mamoudou Athie, Khail Toi Bryant, Ntombikhona Dlamini, Thuli Dumakude, Jonathan Peck, and Michael Rogers.

Choir: Elijah Caldwell, Jasmine Holloway, Michael Howard, Darell Hunt, Jon Kirkland, Ismael Kouyate, John Lucas, Reitumetse

Soho Rep Website



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