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‘Broke-ology’ sees richness in black family life

Jules Becker
‘Broke-ology’ sees richness in black family life
Patrice Jean-Baptiste (l) and Johnny Lee Davenport in “Broke-ology.” (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

David Curtis is a sibling maven. The Dorchester-raised 46-year-old African American actor is one of five brothers (one passed away in 1996) and a sister — a fact that is serving him particularly well in his latest stage role at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.  

Curtis is playing street savvy sibling Ennis King in the Boston premiere of “Broke-ology,” the Nathan Louis Jackson work that focuses on the family dynamics of Ennis, his very different brother Malcolm and their ailing father William. Curtis recently spoke to the Banner about the benefits of his own family dynamics to playing Ennis and his appreciation of the play itself.

“The basis of this play is love and sacrifice,” he maintained.

Playing the highly stressed older sibling, Curtis should know. Besides working as a cook in a restaurant and seeing to the needs of his pregnant wife (spoken of repeatedly though unseen on stage), Ennis is helping his aging father make sure that he takes his pills and monitoring his physical condition. Malcolm, who has been studying in Connecticut, plans to return there to teach — and continue a relationship with a woman he has been dating. Seeing that their father is not as vigorous as he used to be, he considers putting off his return to Connecticut in order to share the responsibilities with William.

Because much of the play centers on the effect of these responsibilities and family concerns on the ties between the siblings themselves, Curtis finds his own family experiences a kind of blessing to his role and his involvement with the play.

Describing his own siblings, he said, “They’re very smart in their own little ways — whether street smart or book smart.”

Particularly serendipitous to his preparation for playing Ennis is the fact that one brother — Drake — is actually a chef at Northeastern and similar to his character. At the same time, Curtis is very conscious of the challenges of having a seriously ailing parent. “My mom has just been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s,” he said. Not surprisingly, when Ennis and Malcolm are looking into an assisted living place for William, Curtis identifies strongly as the son  of parents “wanting to move to a senior living place.”

If you think all of this sounds like a totally serious situation, though, think again. Jackson has injected a good deal of humor into his play, especially in Ennis’s speeches, which move smoothly back and forth between the realities of  being a devoted son and husband and the amusement to be found during something as simple as a family round of dominoes.

Curtis was equally enthusiastic about the stage opportunities now available to black actors. “There’s a new wave for African Americans,” he explained. “There are so many stories that need to be told.”

Singling out veteran actor Johnny Lee Davenport — an IRNE award nominee for his supporting role in last season’s “Vengeance Is the Lord’s” with Huntington Theatre Company, Curtis admitted, “He (Davenport) was one of the reasons why I gave theater a chance. He was kind of like a role model for a black actor.” Davenport plays William in “Broke-ology.”

While Curtis earned a certificate in music recording and engineering at Northeastern Broadcasting School and has played drums since the age of 11 — even as a petty officer cryptologist in the U.S. Navy — he has given considerable attention to his acting. His stage credits include “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” and “A More Perfect Union” at Company One and “Mother G” and “Spunk” with Our Place Theatre, Inc. as well as “A Streetcar Named Desire” (the role of Mitch) and “12 Angry Jurors” with Roxbury Repertory Theatre. Asked if he has had to take time off (from his band The Electric Soul) to do this play, Curtis confessed, “I feel like I’m two-timing my music … Acting is my new mistress.”

“Broke-ology” is a powerful journey, one in which aging African American patriarch William King and his caring sons Ennis and Malcolm confront universal but no less compelling family challenges. Subtitled “The study of being broke,” Nathan Louis Jackson’s warm and often richly humorous look at the impact of changing family fortunes on financial and emotional well-being is anything but poor itself.

Possessing vivid dialogue, “Broke-ology” champions personal commitment and brotherly love as well as respect for the wisdom and worth of one’s parents.