Review | Samuel J And K: a celebration of the unbreakable bonds of family

Wariboko Semenitari and Paul LaNave in SAMUEL J AND K. Photo by Alyssa Kristine

Mat Smart is, imo, an unsung master. His plays reveal astonishing diversity, of subject matter, and narrative intensity. Here are some Smart titles, many of which I would wager you’ve never heard: the deliciously funny The Royal Society of Antarctica; the passionate The Agitators, The Story Of Susan B. Anthony And Frederick Douglas; the affecting Vietnam drama not set in Vietnam, Eden Prairie; the celebratory baseball play Tinker To Evers To Chance (this last piece was produced locally, at Artistry).

And now Smart gives us Samuel J And K (running at the Gremlin Theatre, through August 4). Not, perhaps, the most effective title imaginable, but a good play nevertheless, about the resolutely unbreakable bonds of brotherhood.

The central characters of Samuel J And K are two brothers, J and K. One was born in the U.S. (in “Naperville,” wherever that is). The other is an African foundling, abandoned at a church, “in a plastic bucket.” That these two men have forged a powerful lifelong connection is made clear from the start. They share a mother (“Moms”), a woman we never meet but a woman with enormous influence (despite the fact that for much of the play she resides in a memory care facility, suffering from advanced Alzheimers).

The two men make a trip to Cameroon, the central event of the play. What they are searching for is obscure. Do they find it? See the play and decide. In Cameroon, in a cheap hotel with a single bed, we discover that…

And this is as much of the play as I care to summarize, lest I ruin it for you. Samuel J And K is rich, exploratory, emotionally intense, and like all Mat Smart plays, well worth a look.

The acting thrills. J and K (okay, I don’t recall which is which; sue me) are played by Paul LaNave and Wariboko Gabriel Semenitari. Sensitive direction is provided by Brian Balcom. Once the two men relax and let the love between them take center stage – after all, love is this play’s engine – Samuel J And K will take off.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and from the National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit his informational website.



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