It was family night in every sense last evening at the opening of Broke-ology. There was the fictional clan onstage, which nightly gives the lie to the first sentence of Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (A happy, loving family like that imagined by the playwright, Nathan Louis Jackson, is happy and loving in its own unique way.)
On the other hand, the party at O'Neal's after the performance showed that happy families ARE alike in one sense: the relatives of the cast who turned out were unanimous in their merriment and their praise for what they'd just seen. Everywhere I turned, it seemed, there was a parent or a wife to meet: the mother of Francois Battiste, who plays Ennis; the wife of Alano Miller, who is Malcolm; and (up from New Orleans) the parents of Wendell Pierce, the play's William. I confess that I did not have a chance to find out who showed up from the family of Crystal A. Dickinson, who plays Sonia King, but judging from the constant stream of well-wishers at Dickinson's table (who blocked my way every time I tried to congratulate the actress!), I am confident that she, too, had family of all sorts in the house.
Alano Miller reminded me once again of how deep is the overlap between the cast's own family lives (not to mention the meaning for the playwright, who has said that Broke-ology is autobiographical) and the family they play onstage. Miller, who like Battiste and Pierce looked smart in a suit and tie (Pierce doesn't need an opening night as an excuse to rock a suit), mentioned that his father had died in January and he read Broke-ology not long after. "It really tapped in to some of what I've felt after my father passed," the actor said.
But Miller's memories weren't all unhappy. He regaled his table with talk of growing up in Orlando, Florida, where his father designed and helped build attractions at Disney World. "There are pictures of me as a little kid with workers at the park," Miller said. "I remember seeing a lot of what was there come to life." He was most excited to conjure up Captain EO, the 3D film that ran at Epcot after opening first at Disneyland in California in 1986 but is now closed at both parks.
Not everyone at the table looked familiar with Captain EO. "It was Michael Jackson!" Alano said in mock-disgust. "If you don't know Michael Jackson, who do you know?" Here's what the partygoers did know: Last night, Broke-ology, not Michael Jackson, was the main attraction.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com.