‘Black Panther’ heroine Danai Gurira presents new play and is Steppenwolf honoree

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CAST AND TEAM of Steppenwolf’s “Familiar” after opening night performance. Photo By Julie Del Prete.

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

Steppenwolf recently enjoyed the Chicago premiere production of the engaging comedy “Familiar,” by Danai Gurira (playwright of  “Eclipsed” and “The Convert,” and actor in “Black Panther” and “The Walking Dead”). This Chicago premiere production is directed by Danya Taymor, who helmed Steppenwolf’s powerful 2017 production of “Pass Over,” which was later made into an Amazon Prime movie, directed by the legendary Spike Lee.

It’s winter in Minnesota, and a Zimbabwean-American family is preparing for the wedding of their eldest daughter. When an unexpected guest arrives and the bride surprises the family by insisting on a traditional African ceremony, pre-wedding stress explodes into a full-on family feud. Funny, fast-paced and filled with love, “Familiar” is a brilliant portrayal of a tight-knit family searching to preserve their past while building a new future.

“Familiar, a celebration at its core, invites us all to peer inside an African home in America. It also seeks to evoke a healing of the pains and wounds that plague most families,” shares playwright Gurira.

I am digging all things Gurira, who is an award-winning playwright and actress. As a playwright, her works include “In the Continuum” (OBIE Award, Outer Critics Award, Helen Hayes Award), “Eclipsed” (Tony Award Nomination: Best Play; NAACP Award; Helen Hayes Award: Best New Play; Connecticut Critics Circle Award: Outstanding Production of a Play), and “The Convert” (six Ovation Awards, Los Angeles Outer Critics Award). “Familiar” received its world premiere at Yale Rep in 2015 and premiered in New York at Playwrights Horizons in February of 2016. Gurira is also a recipient of the Sam Norkin Award at the 2016 Drama Desk Awards, a Whiting Award, a Hodder Fellow, and has been commissioned by Yale Rep, Center Theatre Group, Playwrights Horizons, and the Royal Court.

As an actor, Gurira was most recently seen in Marvel’s blockbuster phenomenon “Black Panther” as “General Okoye” and reprised the role in another blockbuster sensation “Avengers: Infinity War” in April 2018. Gurira currently stars as “Michonne” on AMC’s The Walking Dead (NAACP Image Award nomination). Among other projects, Gurira is currently adapting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book Americanah into a miniseries.

Born in the United States to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe, she holds an M.F.A. from Tisch, NYU and serves as an ambassador for Bono’s ONE campaign. She is also the founder of LOGpledge.org, an awareness-building campaign focused on the plights of women and girls around the globe; and the co-founder of Almasi Arts, which works to give access and opportunity to the African Dramatic Artist.

To celebrate all her accomplishments and to show appreciation for her commitment to humanity and women’s causes, and the arts, Steppenwolf is delighted to honor Gurira at the 10th anniversary of Steppenwolf Women in the Arts fundraising luncheon on Monday, December 10, 2018, at Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel at 12:00 Noon. Ms. Gurira joins Steppenwolf Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro for an exciting conversation about her on-stage and on-screen acting career, award-winning plays and her impact as a leader in her industry. Funds raised support the work of Steppenwolf’s professional development and education programs. Co-chairs of the “10th Anniversary Women in the Arts Luncheon” are Stephanie B. Smith and Helen Zell. United Airlines is the official and exclusive Airline Partner of Steppenwolf.

For tickets to “Women in the Arts” or more information, contact Steppenwolf’s Special Events Department at 312-654-5632 or specialevents@steppenwolf.org.

“Familiar” runs through January 13, 2019, in the Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Single tickets ($20-$109) are now on sale through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or  www.steppenwolf.org. Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the award-winning Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.”

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the award-winning Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood-South Side of Chicago.”

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