AIDS has devastated South Africa, and debbie tucker green’s Generations brings the tragedy home in a highly personal way that never once mentions the disease. The play offers an immersive look at three generations of one family as they prepare a meal together—and as younger members of the clan disappear from the hearth.
The immersion begins the moment you enter Off Broadway’s Soho Rep, where the play is running through Nov. 9. Set designer Amulfo Maldonado has laid down a dirt floor, lined the walls with colorful corrugated metal panels, and set up a rudimentary kitchen area where the women of the cast prepare a fragrant stew before us. The audience is seated all around this eating space, on mismatched chairs, stools, and even (padded) milk crates and buckets. (Luckily, the show’s running time is a fleet 40 minutes.)
Green’s dialogue is a theatrical version of theme and variations, presenting familial dialogue that falls into the familiar themes of cooking, courtship, and kinship—and then repeating those same lines from the beginning, virtually verbatim, as characters (wordlessly) depart. But what had been playful, flirtatious banter early on assumes a darker cast as the play progresses and the cast thins out.
The increasingly weighty emotions are underscored by a 13-member choir, seated on stools amidst the audience and providing a kind of live requiem Mass for the fallen. Despite their moving vocal performance, though, Generations remains a surprisingly chilly piece of theater, more of a structurally clever academic exercise than a fully engaging and emotional work of drama. B-