Monday, May 6, 2019

The Brothers Paranormal is a Thrilling Nail-Biter

Although not my preferred genre, horror really seems to be having a moment these days. 

Thanks to brilliant filmmakers like Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) and Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story), horror is becoming a nuanced, complex genre that many people share a love of. More than many genres it is a group fan effort, with people taking whole friend groups or hosting viewing parties to dissect the latest and greatest. 

That said, horror is not a genre often seen on stage. There are likely many reasons for this, but it makes those who do attempt productions stand out in the crowd. The Brothers Paranormal, a blended production equally co-produced by Penumbra Theatre and Theater Mu, is an excellent addition to this group and a true original in more ways than one. 

The Brothers Paranormal tells the story of two Thai brothers, Max and Visarut, as they make their first home site visit for their fledgling business investigating ghostly paranormal activity. Delia, a transplant from New Orleans, is terrified as she describes seeing an angry Asian woman who she is certain is a ghost. Thinking they are about to earn some easy cash, Max and Visarut immediately dispatch to Delia's home, where they meet her husband Felix and learn many unsettling details about the case. I don't want to reveal any more of the plot here because there are many important, unnerving surprises in this nail-biter of a script; instead, I'll just say that even the most jaded, experienced theater goer is likely to find plot twists here that they didn't expect, and it is a really exciting live experience. 

One of the unusual things about this show is that it truly blends different cultures (in this case Thai immigrant and African American), making both greater than the sum of their parts by their contrast. There were nuggets of cultural information and history tucked throughout the script that I didn't know before, and in addition to the thrilling action I was delighted to have learned a lot of new things by the end of the show. It helps that The Brothers Paranormal is perfectly cast, with a rock-solid group that brings so much nuance to their acting. Perennial favorite Regina Marie Williams is magnificent as Delia, making the ghostly visions totally believable. Sherwin Resurreccion is tenderly emotive as Max and brings a real depth to his role, leaving many of us teary-eyed on more than one occasion. Kurt Kwan brings necessary levity as Visarut, and James Craven is powerful as the concerned husband Felix. Michelle de Joya is positively terrifying as Jai (you'll know what I mean); hats off to her serious physicality. And the standout was new-to-me Leslie Ishii as Max and Visarut's mother Tasanee; Ishii was a warm, mysterious presence throughout the show, and her story was the most profound for me. I'd love to see her stay in the Twin Cities to work with more companies in the future. 

The set, designed by Vicki Smith, bears many hallmarks of Penumbra's recent shift in vision, with small but expertly crafted dioramas that hold all sorts of surprising, secret special effects. Combined with Mathew LeFebvre's simple costume design, we are able to stay focused on the tiny details that alert us to paranormal presence, and several are real wowzers. Karin Olson and Scott Edwards play several tricks through their respective lighting and sound design that had me on the edge of my seat, and Ruth Coughlin Lenkowski's dialect coaching provided nuanced characterizations for each generation of character in the show. Hats off overall to the direction from Lou Bellamy and assistant direction from Sun Mee Chomet; their clear vision provides a seamless integration of two very different companies, and this excellent production is better for both of their involvement. 

The Brothers Paranormal is a significant performance for several reasons. It's one of the best live horror shows I've seen on stage, anywhere; it combines two powerhouse but very different companies and provides a template for how to produce more integrated work in the future (which I surely hope to see); and it also marks by far the most ambitious outing for Theater Mu since the abrupt departure of their long-term artistic director, Randy Reyes. Bringing in Sun Mee Chomet to lead Theater Mu's portion of the production was an inspired choice and shows that Theater Mu is going to stay a strong presence in #tctheater regardless of the unexpected changes. I am very excited to see where Theater Mu's leadership search finally ends up, and if The Brothers Paranormal is any indication we have great things to expect in the future. 

If you're on the fence because of content, know that I loved this production despite being a person who hates being scared. It's a gripping and beautifully acted drama starring some of our finest local actors, and there's not a bad seat in the house to see the really special production design. I highly recommend readers check this out; for more information or to buy your tickets, click on this link

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