Dobama Theatre’s ‘What We Look Like’ is true to life look at modern human relationships
When it comes to race, what are the characteristics that make us decidedly different? What traits help us stand out as Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander/Hawaiian. Are these features environmental, social, familial or traditional? In short, what makes each race “click”?
The Hodges family have moved to a lily white suburban neighborhood in order to have the peace of mind that better schools and safer streets afford. The father, Brian (Rob Grant III) has a good job and works hard to be a caring dad although most days (like dads the world over) he is totally clueless as to what is going on around him. His wife, Jean (Katricemonee Headd) works for a law firm. Between the two of them they can afford a comfortable lifestyle that includes individual marriage and family therapy sessions. The problem is that there seems to be a disconnect between the family members.
Brian and Jean have three children. Edmund (Aamar-Malik Culbreth) who is the “brain” of the family with a perpetual 4.+ average. Since he never causes any problems he is invisible to all. His sister, Angie (Diwi Augustin-Glave) is the rebel, spouting Marxist philosophy at the drop of a hat. She is also having sexual orientation issues and has the beginnings of a compulsive eating disorder. It is the youngest son, Tommy (who we never see since he is either at school, in his room or at the neighbor’s house) who is the focus of the parent’s angst.
The story opens with Brian and Jean talking to a counselor. It seems that Tommy came home with a drawing of his “family” except that his family on paper is white. This imaginary family appears on stage as Robert (Andrew Gorell), Martha (Katie Booze-Mooney) and Sally-Mae (Alexa Fatheringham) Hockenberry who are right out of a vintage 60s sitcom. They are simply perfect in every way and invisible. Once the Hodges and Hockenberrys have been introduced we meet the newly arrived neighbors, Steven, Sarah and Zoe Beckens played by the same trio as the Hockenberries who come right in the unlocked front door with a request to heat up their Hot Pockets in the Hodges microwave oven...Hello Neighbor!
In short order, Edmond sabotages a date with the most popular black girl at school because he is deeply in love with Zoe who is in love with Angie who has conned Sarah to watch Tommy after school which is unknown to Jean while Brian keeps his distance by working and playing golf. Yep, that’s pretty much it. In the end, the two families sit down for a formal dinner (modeled after “The Last Supper”) and all is painfully revealed including the ethnic difference between kale and collard greens.
In the program it is mentioned that “THIS PLAY WILL BE PERFORMED WITH NO INTERMISSION.” Thank goodness that that is incorrect as the show runs 155 minutes plus an intermission. As this show is playwright B.J. Tindal’s first attempt (it began as a project when he was attending Oberlin College) he can be forgiven for trying to do too much. Truthfully, while the play races along and is never boring it is a bit too much information to swallow in one long sit. Some of the repetitive sub-plots could be combined or shortened and following the dinner scene it could have been wrapped up much faster.
As for the actors, they are great! Rob Grant III as Brian is perfect as the befuddled dad trying to make sense of it all. Katricemonee Headd as Jean is the glue that keeps the family together in spite of her family keeping secrets from her. Aamar-Malik Culbreth is believable as Edmond whose brain overshadows his lack of social skills and common sense although he overplays his emotions a bit too much. Diwi Augustin-Glave as Angie shines with attitude and sexual orientation confusion as Zoe comes on to her. The trio of Andrew Gorell, Katie Booze-Mooney and Alexa Fatheringham playing the polar opposite families of Beckson/Hockenberry do a superb job as well.
Concerning Cameron Michalak’s stage set it is a bit mundane. It seems that over the season the same tired stainless steel refrigerator gets paraded out with new dinks and dents showing on its front with each appearance. While the revolving bedroom is clever the over use of industrial grade chairs was uninspired. There is also the oversize Rorschach Test that dominates the one wall that really does not make much sense. Adam Ditzel’s lighting is sufficient, however the repeated use of strobe like effect was disconcerting. Considering the over padded script that he had to work with, Director Darius Stubbs did the best he could.
First off, this show is very believable. Reactions from the mixed audience attested to that fact. While some parts are extremely funny and approaching poignant it is a show trying to do too much with too much time on its hands. A bit of sanding down, editing of redundant scenes and toning down on the emotions would make this a much better vehicle...but it is still worth seeing.
“What We Look Like” will be on stage at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio through May 24, 2023. For more information and tickets go to https://www.dobama.org/or call (216) 932-3396.