By Stephanie ottey
Don’t judge a play by its title.
“Broke-ology” illustrates a family struggling with financial woes, true, but it touches on such an array of other life crises that anyone could easily relate.
Though called a drama, there are profound moments of humor in the play, and like in life, they rear up amid struggle and sorrow.
The story follows the widower William King as he struggles with multiple sclerosis, poverty and sons who are fighting to make good lives for themselves in a bad economy. Nathan Louis Jackson’s script is powerful, and Youngstown State University Theater chose the right time to stage the production.
With Matthew Mazuroski as a director and the all African-American cast available to effectively portray the King family, this was a natural choice for the season.
Nikita Jones lends a beautiful smile and bright energy to Mrs. King, causing the audience to love her as much as the King men. Though she spends a small amount of time on stage compared with the rest of the cast, she leaves a lasting impression.
Without an actor’s bio to clarify, it’s hard to know where Timothy Thomas gets his ability, but he performs like a seasoned professional. Thomas takes Ennis, a character who easily could be one-dimensional, and makes a complex and real person. On top of this, he maintains a natural comedic timing that makes the audience laugh out loud repeatedly.
Actually, this entire cast develops complex and relatable characters. A great deal of character work obviously went into the rehearsal process, and it paid off. Not only do the actors connect with their roles, they connect with one another, defining relationships with refreshing clarity.
No doubt Mazuroski’s direction has a great deal to do with this unity.
Breylon Stubbs, last seen in “Riff Raff” at YSU, gives another captivating performance. His character, Malcolm, is so well-defined that he seems familiar. Stubbs uses his energy on stage wisely, remaining constantly connected to the scene but bursting emotionally when necessary.
Leading this superb cast is Michael Traylor, who has created a respectable and sympathetic character in William, the sick, vulnerable and determined patriarch of the King family. Traylor’s palsy is unaffected, his struggle with dementia is sincere, and he carries himself with a fragility that erases any willing suspension and leaves the audience with nothing but belief. His gripping performance takes the audience on an emotional ride that should not be missed.
Not to be forgotten, Todd Dicken’s set design is surprising and beautiful. A simple, extended high wall adds a visual interest to the stage that at first seems strictly artistic but proves to illustrate a profound moment in the bittersweet ending.
“Broke-ology” runs on the Ford Theater stage, inside Bliss Hall, weekends through March 3. Call 330-941-3105.