A Father And 2 Sons Cope With Difficult Times

"Broke-ology" is the study of being broke, according to one of the characters in Nathan Louis Jackson's small but fully realized family drama of the same name. It's not a bad title for these stressful economic times.

The play, in a production from Lincoln Center Theater, focuses on the King family, a trio of men: a widowed father, living in Kansas City, Kan., and his two sons. They are going through difficult times, and important decisions will have to be made.

Father William has multiple sclerosis; son Ennis works in a local barbecue joint, scraping together a living to support a wife and new baby; younger son Malcolm has returned for a visit from the East Coast, where the possibility of bright economic and social advancement awaits.

You probably can see where the play, which opened Monday at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is going. If the conflict isn't new, Jackson's attempt to deal with some time-honored tribulations is surprisingly sturdy.

We have the stubborn patriarch, played by Wendell Pierce of "The Wire." He's a proud man, whose physical deterioration is getting worse. Pierce brings a quiet dignity to the man who spends much of the time in the past. And the play travels there, too, with visits from his dead wife (Crystal A. Dickinson) spaced throughout the play.

Then there's older offspring Ennis, trapped in a volatile marriage and a dead-end job and now facing the prospect of having to care for his ailing father. Francois Battiste brings a fierce determination to the young man, yearning for a little freedom from oppressive responsibility.

Add to the mix Malcolm, the family's golden boy, portrayed with an eager awareness by Alano Miller. He's an educated lad determined to take advantage of life's possibilities _ possibilities that could evaporate if he is forced to move back home.

Jackson's dialogue is deceptively easygoing, as naturalistic as designer Donyale Werle's crowded and homey kitchen-living room set. And director Thomas Kail lets the play unfold at a leisurely pace.

But don't let the evening's initial amiability and often humorous bantering fool you. Within the confines of this cozy setting, desperation is setting in, and Jackson mines it with surprising force.