Kitchen Theatre’s ‘Broke-ology’ cracks open the American dream

Who Kitchen Theatre Company
April 4- 22
 417 W. State / W. MLK, Jr. Street, Ithaca
Tickets Up to $32
Review by 
 Dani Villalobos


A science that surveys two things: being stuck, and trying your damnedest to survive, despite your stuckness.

This formula is the very basis of Nathan Louis Jackson’s play, Broke-ology, with the subject of study instead focused on, you guessed it, being broke. But is it really?

Sure, Ennis King, the character who coined this breakthrough concept, is living in the ghettos of Kansas City with his aging father, William, and is saddled with a job he doesn’t like, a girlfriend who nags, and a baby he doesn’t want on the way—each glaring representations of his dirt poor status. As the story unfolds, however, the King family’s “brokeness” is a superficial obstacle veiling the true crux of the plot.

Being stuck.

Staged inside a modest home, the two-hour performance takes place in one of the most complex sets I’ve seen at Kitchen Theatre. The space is split up into two main rooms: a wood floored-living area and a slightly elevated kitchen. From a beaten-up couch to the worn appliances, the details adeptly set the tone for the play with its weathered, truthful appearance; a tough feat for such an intimate theater.

William and Sonia King (Alexander Thomas and Ronica V. Reddick) share a moment and a glass of chocolate milk in Broke-ology. Photo by Ed Dittenhoefer.

Instantly, the tension is there. As the four characters make their entrances, we learn that William, played by Alexander Thomas, has  seriously deteriorating health—he’s now seeing his deceased wife, Sonia, performed by Ronica V. Reddick, on a regular basis—and is now forced to rely on Ennis to help with his medical upkeep. The youngest son, Malcolm (Ohene Cornelius) is hoping to make his visit home a brief one after just receiving his Master’s in Connecticut. And Ennis (Chad Carstarphen) views his brother’s return as a welcome reprieve from his various obligations.

Put it all together and what do you get: a group of people tethered to situations that are keeping them from the lives they want. A lack of funds is not to blame.

The first act establishes these conflicts early on, but any climatic build is almost stagnant. In the second half, however, the play’s pace and the actors’ performances ignite. Malcolm is forced to finally make his decision—stay and take responsibility for his father, or go back to a career awaiting him in Connecticut? He chooses his future. Cornelius’ energy is unbridled and heated as he defends his choice to Ennis, and voices the family’s real problem. They’re all trapped, and he doesn’t want to be.

A critique on the American Dream, the cast’s chemistry and script’s brutal honesty depict a portrait that is deeply identifiable. Does affluence really equate happiness? At what expense are we willing to reach our goals?

In a moment so poignant, so eerie my throat constricted, William takes his stance on the issue. When asked if he’s taken his medication for the evening, Thomas levels the audience with a knowing stare. “No,” and injects himself with the extra dose. With that lie, William finally sets himself free.

He found a way out. For all of them.


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