In Bliss Hall’s Ford Theater, board games and a stereo fill the cupboard in a set of a family room and kitchen. A vial of medication rests next to the family room’s couch, while the kitchen is stocked with cups and plates.
The above setting is where several Youngstown State University students will make history by performing in the university’s first production with an all African-American cast.
“Broke-ology” will run from Thursday through Sunday and again from March 1 to 3. The play is about a family who struggles to make ends meet — and also has to deal with the mother’s death and the father’s health issues.
Director Matthew Mazuroski, an assistant professor of theater at YSU, said this is also the university’s first main-stage production to be written by an African-American, Nathan Louis Jackson.
“I find that amazing with the community and the university being so diverse that this is the first time doing a play written by an African-American playwright,” Mazuroski said.
However, he and the cast members said anyone can easily relate to the play.
“The message of the play is a good one, and it’s relatable. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic or whatever. Anyone can go through losing your job and being able to pull through,” said Nikita Jones, who plays Sonia King.
Jones’ character is the mother of the family, and her death takes a serious toll on the father, William King, played by Mike Traylor.
Traylor comes to YSU from Arizona, where he studied at Northern Arizona University and has been acting for 40 years.
“It’s been great working with them,” Traylor said. “It’s just like working with a colleague.”
Traylor said he’s been learning from the students as much as they have learned from him.
Breylon Stubbs plays William King’s son, Malcolm King.
“It pulls out our skills more on stage to work with someone so talented,” Stubbs said.
Stubbs said he wanted to be part of “Broke-ology” for two reasons: to work with Traylor and to be part of the first all African-American cast at YSU.
“We’re making history,” Stubbs said, glancing at his co-stars with a gleam in his eye.
He said his character’s life is relatable to his own.
“He’s struggling with wanting to stay at home or go to college,” Stubbs said. “I’m at that split level of staying here or going out of state.”
Malcolm King is the younger brother who is returning home from college to help take care of his father. He’s more of a realist than his older brother, Ennis King, who is played by Timothy Thomas.
The relationship between the brothers is one of Thomas’ favorite parts of “Broke-ology.”
“I have a brother myself. It’s a bond that my character has with Breylon’s character.
The love that is there is really powerful and deeply enrooted in the play,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ character is preparing to become a father while also taking care of his father. Plus, he’s the first character to utter the word “broke-ology,” or the “science of being broke.”
The character is upbeat and often provides comic relief. Thomas said he’s glad to be participating in a groundbreaking play.
“A lot of schools are so caught in doing the traditional plays that a lot is lost in the underbrush. There is a lot of undiscovered talent,” Thomas said.
Mazuroski, ready to prepare the final touches for opening night, said the play has come together nicely. The content is relatable, he said, and the King family represents many families not only in Youngstown, but nationwide.
“Families live their lives with struggles, in good times and bad,” Mazuroski said.Traylor agreed.
“It’s a show about real people. It’s your dad, brothers, sisters and mothers,” he said. “This is a family that cares about each other.”
Jones, who has previously performed in musicals, said she’s stepping out of her comfort zone for this play — but feels close to the King family.
“I’m bonded to the King family. I grew up in a family with not much, but we definitely survived,” Jones said.
Despite strong language in the play, Mazuroski said if children are comfortable with such language, then the message of staying together through good times and bad is something everyone should see.
“This play will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry and it’ll keep you on the edge of your seats,” Stubbs said.