Immediate Family, a biting new comedy by Paul Oakley Stovall, explores evolving ideas of marriage and family. The Bryant family reunion takes a comedic turn when the middle son brings home his Swedish boyfriend and tosses him into a stew of family dysfunction. Race, sexuality and religion are on the menu as Modern Family meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in this “timely and important American play” (Chicago Tribune).
Phylicia Rashad, who last directed Joe Turner’s Come and Gone for Center Theatre Group, returns to the director’s chair for Immediate Family, which she also directed at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2012. Here, she discusses what makes this project so special.
What drew you to Immediate Family?
I met Paul Oakley Stovall on another theatre project, and he called me afterward and asked if he could send me the script. Then he called again about three-and-half weeks later and said, by the way, did I ask you to direct this play? No, you did not! [Laughs.] It was coming up at the Goodman, and we had to move fast. We produced it with very little turnaround time, and honed it down from six locations to one. In the process, we were discovering so many things about the family, the characters and their behavior. The audience reaction was good, and in the end we had a very fine play, but I thought that was the end of it. Then, somehow, it came to [Artistic Director] Michael Ritchie’s attention. He called and said it had been a long time since he’d read a script that made him laugh out loud. How about directing this in L.A.?
And here we are. Do you expect to continue discovering new things about the play in Los Angeles?
Absolutely. Theatre takes time, and it’s constantly unfolding. It evolves and changes with every performance, and the play you get in the middle of the run is going to be refined in ways it wasn’t at the beginning. That’s just the nature of it. It’s always what we don’t know at the outset that excites us and interests us most.
The play is set in Chicago. How does that figure into the story?
Chicago has very interesting implications. It has a civil rights history that is most interesting. Martin Luther King Jr. thought it was more dangerous than the South. He said it’s tougher there than in Mississippi. And that’s because it’s a city of neighborhoods. It’s a city that works better for some than for others. It’s a city of ethnicities, and they live in these very well-defined neighborhoods. And this becomes part of the play’s story, literally and metaphorically.
What do you want audiences to take away from this play?
I never plan what they should see other than the truth of human behavior, and, hopefully, something of their own humanity. You see something of your own self reflected on that stage, and one way or another, you can understand it — not judge it, but understand it.