A Bothersome Brother
Brother Mine is a well-intentioned play that explores serious topics. Malcolm, the protagonist, is a young black man who was given up for adoption by his jazz-musician father and raised by a loving white family. He struggles with issues of identity and community, while his much-loved older brother, Anthony, has drifted into drug addiction. Malcolm is devoted to the concept of family and would do anything to keep his own together and save his brother. In addition, there's a subplot involving Malcolm's girlfriend's pregnancy and her desire to terminate it. It's all powerful stuff. The problem is that playwright Eric C. Dente tends to state the issues in the dialogue rather than dramatize them. His characters are always lecturing each other, coming up with little parables and exhortations, defining their emotional problems and later claiming to have solved them. Many of the conflicts are too easily resolved, and what action there is tends to be predictable.
This is not to say that Brother Mine isn't worth seeing. The play does have some touching, revealing or humorous moments, and some of the playwright's devices -- Malcolm's encounters with his younger self, for example -- work well. Other scenes have resonance because of the associations they raise. When Malcolm's birth father is accosted by skinheads, for example, it's terrifying, because most of us remember the vicious murder of an immigrant a few years ago by a skinhead at a Denver bus stop.
The cast is talented. David Pinckney brings strong emotional honesty to the role of Malcolm, and he's well matched by fourteen-year-old Chris Hampton as the character's younger self. These actors are very different -- and, obviously, Pinckney's a great deal more experienced -- but they share a certain quality, an apparent inner peacefulness that's extremely appealing.
There are strong performances throughout, from Laurence A. Curry's turn as the best friend who urges Malcolm to search out his roots, to Vanessa Lunnon as the pregnant girlfriend, to Justin Thompson's dopey, snickering skinhead. Margaret Amateis Casart is terrific as Malcolm's adoptive mother, Sarah, who's required, on her first appearance on stage, to tell her young son a didactic little bedtime story about Mr. Same and Mr. Different. She does it with such humor and energy that it works. David C. Riley as big brother Anthony has the most multifaceted character to work with, and he makes good use of the opportunity. His is a tremendous performance, full of humor, pain, strength and surprise. Riley has a big, cynical grin reminiscent of Jim Carrey's, and an equally manic energy, but he's also capable of tenderness and quiet. The work of these actors seems particularly generous -- and their concentration commendable -- given the fact that they're working in an almost entirely undefined space, sometimes only inches from the audience.
There were six people in attendance when I saw Brother Mine, and it's not hard to figure out why. Watching a play at the LIDA Project can be an uncomfortable experience. I don't know if it's beyond the group's resources, but the cavernous acting space really needs to be reworked. As it is, it drinks up the action. Also, the noisy heater got turned off when the play began, and the auditorium became bitterly cold. (Fortunately, someone figured this out by the second act and left the heater on. It turned out the actors were still audible.) A concession table with warm drinks, which would have been very welcome during the intermission, wasn't forthcoming. And at the end of the play, the actors didn't even bother to come out and take their bows, leaving us to wait a while, then wander aimlessly into the night.
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