Broom Street Theater and Knowledge Workings are debuting a new play tonight that “explores how a shocking ancestral connection revealed during the taping of a reality podcast incites a series of surprising negotiations and unanticipated antics among its participants.”
“Genealogy,” written by Joe Queenan and TJ Elliott, is a comedic drama about reparations that plays Friday-Sunday at the Broom Street Theater and runs through Nov. 21.
“Essentially this is about two families who are at the heart of this conversation due to some personal connections,” Dana Pellebon, co-producer and director of “Genealogy,” tells Madison365.
In “Genealogy,” according to a press release from Broom Street, the host of “Chasing the Dead” is Glenn Weber (Jackson Rosenberry), a former “influencer” and erstwhile MTV emcee who attempts to finesse his guests – two high-profile, straight married couples, one Black and one white – while wrestling with the demands of unseen supervisors in the Control Room.
Quanda Johnson plays professor and activist Aaliyah Levin-Wilson in “Geneology.”
“I am intrigued by the subject matter of ‘Geneology’ and by the relationships and the ability to present on stage a Black couple working against stereotype on multiple levels and presenting subject matter that should be on the forefront of everybody’s conscious right now – this idea of repair and giving people what they deserve,” Johnson tells Madison365. “That is critical in the social reckoning that we are having in the country over the past year and a half.
“It feels really good to be in that conversation in a way that is comedic – which is challenging. This is not a conversation that you would think marries well with humor. It’s very intriguing and I’m very excited to be a part of this,” she adds.
Johnson and Atticus Cain play an African-American couple who meet home-maker and former prosecutor, ‘Muggs’ Moriarty Hunt (Jamie England) and her husband, Hamilton Hunt (Donavan Armbruster), a high-profile lawyer whose presumably illustrious family tree is under scrutiny. A power struggle ensues and individual allegiances seem to sway and shift over culpability for the legacy of slavery and the debate over reparations.
“The character I play is strangely very much like myself which is not an easy thing for an actor. Actually, it’s easier to play a character who is not anything like yourself. So that was intriguing to me. There was also the challenge of the language which is very much not the way I speak,” Johnson says. “So that character is like me but expresses herself in a way very much unlike me – that’s a nice razor’s edge to have to walk.”
Cain, an actor, writer and filmmaker living in New York City, plays Mosiah Wilson, a former all-star pro football player and wife of Johnson’s Professor Levin-Wilson.
“My character and I share one thing in common. I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with my grandparents and my grandmother was very, very strict and forceful about education and reading and investing in yourself and working twice as hard about being intellectually astute about things,” Cain tells Madison365. “So here you have a contradiction of a football player who is also a philosophy graduate from Yale and everything that means when it comes to himself and what it means when it comes to his identity in the Black community.
“It creates some conflict with the Black community at large because he is accused of ‘talking white.’ I’m not sure where it came from because there has been a long tradition in the African American community focused on education,” he adds. “I don’t know where that came from and how it was used to create this wedge in us, but it has. And I can feel that in the character and identify with that … that’s one of the reasons why the role is so intriguing.”
Pellebon, who has acted, directed, written, and produced for a variety of community and professional theatrical troupes in the Madison area over the last two decades, says that she really loves the relationships in “Genealogy.”
“One of the things that I love about the show is the portrayal of marriage. So we have two couples and the four actors that portray these married couples that have really forged a relationship that feels very real. It feels very collective,” Pellebon says. “Just like in regular marriage, there are some disputes that go back and forth and you can tell that there are points of tension between each couple, but you can tell that there is this incredible love between each of them that is really so nice to be able to direct and portray.
“With the couple that Atticus and Quanda play, one of the things that they do is call each other ‘friend’ and when I first read that, I was like, ‘Why would you do that?’ But now, 7 or 8 months since I first read the show, I literally call everyone ‘friend,'” Pellebon adds. “It’s endearing and familiar, yet not overly so … it’s become a part of my language. And how they utilize that with each other is very much how I want to be when I’m talking to people.”
There are moments in “Geneology” between the main characters, Pellebon adds, that are “beautiful and poignant without there even necessarily being words.”
“I truly love that about this show,” she says.
“Genealogy” is a comedy, but it is also dramatic dealing with history, trauma, white supremacy, and forging a path forward. Most importantly, it delves deeply into reparations.
“It’s funny because, for me, my view on this has changed. I have engaged with a friend of mine who works in this social justice organization and is currently working on his Ph.D. in African-American history and sociology. We talked about the subject of reparation,” Cain says. “My own feelings connect with Mosiah, without spoiling too much of the play. There was some conflict because I dislike the idea of setting a price on Black people or their suffering.
“But, at the same time, as Quanda says, there’s a price that does need to be paid. There’s some type of reckoning that needs to be owned up to,” he adds. “The country has not had that. We haven’t owned up to it. America has never done that.”
“We’ve never gotten an official governmental apology for a half of millennia of enslavement,” Johnson says. “A little something here or there, but nothing official that says, ‘This was done. And it was a horror. And there is residue from this … and we are sorry.’”
Pellebon says that one of the things she likes about “Genealogy” is that it doesn’t come down on any side.
“That’s important. That’s one of the things I felt as I read through – I went back and forth between Quanda’s character and Atticus’s character. There’s a complicated feeling from Black folks and what I really like is that it doesn’t treat us as a monolith,” she says. “It allows us to have our own separate emotions and even if we disagree, we’re still there for our partner. That is so important in this script. The portrayal of Black love has been so one-dimensional and very dependent, a lot of times, on women subjugating themselves to men. This doesn’t do that. And that’s so refreshing to be a part of.”
Pellebon hopes that people walk away from “Genealogy” talking about the topics presented in the play, thinking, debating and coming up with more questions themselves.
“If people don’t leave ‘Genealogy’ asking questions and thinking about it, we haven’t done our job,” she says. “There has to be some form of consideration and weighing what’s in the balance because of these times in which we are alive.”
“Genealogy” runs for three consecutive weekends: November 5, 6; November 11-13; November 18-20. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22 online, or Pay-What-You-Can at the door. Tickets are available here. For more information, visit www.knowledgeworkings.com or https://bstonline.org