“Black Like Us” co-produced by Annex and Brownbox Theatres

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Florence (Chelsea Binta) & Maxine (Dior Davenport) in “Black Like Us” @ Annex Theatre
Photo by Shane Regan

When skin color is more important than family ties, when one sister is brown and the other almost white there are bound to be tensions, even heartbreaks. In this world premiere of local playwright Rachel Atkins new work, skin color trumps love and family heritage in a work that manages to be consistently funny even as it tears at your heart.

It’s the 1950s Florence (Chelsea Binta) has the opportunity to pass, to live as a white person in a racist society. She’s in love with a white man who doesn’t know her racial heritage, and she’s going to do everything in her power to make sure he never does. That means she must abandon her family including her dear sister Maxine (Dior Davenport).

But of course family secrets eventually will out. After her death, Florence’s white grandchildren come across the truth of their heritage. In our contemporary world, attitudes toward race have been somewhat modified so these young women in no way want to hide the truth. They want to seek out their black family members, make the most of their heritage, probably sing “Kumbya” together and talk of world peace.

One of the funniest scenes in the play is the meeting of the cousins in, of all places, a Starbucks in Bellevue, a locale chosen by the white girls, of course. The skepticism of the black women, the naiveté of the white women is aptly portrayed.

Under the direction of Jose Amador, the entire cast is in top form. There’s not a single weak portrayal. It’s almost unfair to draw attention to any single actor but Binta and Davenport are so splendid and Alyson Scadron Branner as Sandra, the overly enthusiastic granddaughter, runs with a role that any actress would love to play. Without using a sledgehammer, the play explores numerous issues surrounding race in America and concerning sisterhood. The only weakness is its tendency to ramble, to try to include too much. But it’s a new work, and I’m sure it will be tightened as it evolves.

Through March 1 at Annex Theatre 1100 E. Pike St., Seattle, (206 728-093 or www.annextheatre.org).

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