Ah, autumn…the time of year when a young theater goer’s fancies turn to sitting in cozy auditoriums watching plays about vengeful spirits and Thanksgiving pageants gone awry…
Review: THE BROTHERS PARANORMAL by Prince Gomolvilas. Produced by Pork Filled Productions. Directed by Mimi Katano. Set and Prop Design by Robin Macartney. Lighting Design by Carolina Johnson. Costume Design by Jonelle Kimbrough. Sound Design by Troy Lund. With Margaret Luxamon Hotchkiss, Sean Nguyen, Selena Whitaker-Paquiet, Van Lang Pham, Kathy Hsieh, Ronnie Hill. Onstage at Theatre Off Jackson/International District from October 26 to November 16, 2019.
All kinds of spirits are haunting THE BROTHERS PARANORMAL the rather sweet new play being produced by one of Seattle’s Asia-American theater companies, Pork Filled Productions at Theatre Off Jackson in the International District. It’s from playwright Prince Gomolvilas and it’s set in the year 2007 in an unnamed midwestern city and it centers on a family run “ghostbusters” business started by two brothers, Max, the younger college educated American born sibling of Visarut, who was born in Thailand who has had some issues dealing with life after the death of his father and taking care of his aging and frequently depressed mother, Tasanee.
Max is all about making a fast buck by offering a possibly sham service to help exorcise ghosts/spirits that are haunting their clients while Visarut seems to actually believe that they can scientifically use their technology to help people including their first client, Delia, who has been plagued by a rather nasty spirit who seems to have infiltrated her life as a refugee from New Orleans following the devastating Hurricane Katrina.
The trouble is, only Delia can see the spirit; her husband Felix, while supportive of his wife, hasn’t seen any evidence though he has a theory about who the spirit is and why it’s impacting their lives. But, before he can reveal that theory, the spirit causes him to have a heart attack. Meanwhile, tensions in the household of the two brothers are also coming to a head with their mama struggling to help improve inter-familial relationships.
But, there are a lot of secrets circling through the plot of The Brothers Paranormal and since they’re rather an integral part of the plot it would be mean to reveal them but suffice it to say that not everything (and everyone) in the play is what they appear to be…there’s a lot of mystery to be revealed over the the course of the 2 act play that runs over 2 hours.
And, those secrets and their revelations, are part of the charms of this rather loosely plotted play which doesn’t always make sense but manages to be entertaining despite some plot holes. The playwright has created two sets of interesting characters (the Thai family of ghost busters and Delia/Felix the African American hurricane refugees) and the dialogue is amusing and there are some fun scary scenes in the play with clever DIY stagecraft utilizing Robin Macartney’s innovative set design. The overall feeling of an Asian ghost/horror movie is nicely done on this production’s small budget.
And, the cast is a fine ensemble with especially fun performances from Kathy Hsieh as the meddling Thai mom and Selena Whitaker-Paquiet as the haunted Delia. Both nail the comedic elements of their performances as well as the more emotional heartfelt ones as well.
Despite the sloppiness of some of the plotting and pacing, the charm of the story and the characters and the great effects are reasons enough to check out this shaggy dog story. The Brothers Paranormal is a bit of theater fun on a budget but it gets the job done.
Review: THE THANKSGIVING PLAY by Larissa Fasthorse. Produced by Seattle Public Theatre. Directed by Kelly Kitchens. Scenic Design by Christopher Mumaw. Costume Design by Natalie Shih. Lighting Design by Ryan Dunn. Sound Design by D.R. Amromin. Properties Design by Coco Nakase. Projections Design by Jared Norman. With Jonelle Jordan, Martyn G. Krouse, Andrew Shanks, Zenaida Rose Smith. Onstage at the Green Lake Bath House Theater/Seattle Public Theatre from October 18 through November 16, 2019.
The play about the disastrous Thanksgiving pageant is called just that…it’s Larissa Fasthorse’s THE THANKSGIVING PLAY and it’s being produced at Seattle Public Theatre’s Green Lake Bath House Theater in a production directed by Kelly Kitchens.
It centers on the very harried Logan, a very “woke” thirtysomething educator who has received a grant to produce a culturally sensitive theatrical piece about the iconic “first Thanksgiving” story that goes beyond the usual “white Pilgrims eating turkey and stuffing with noble Indians at Plymouth Rock” tale we’ve been taught since Kindergarten.
Assisting Logan is her boyfriend/partner Jaxton, a sweetly daffy and equally woke local actor/artist who can best be described as a “yoga hippie guy” and the also rather sweet and shy fellow educator Caden who is both a historian and a frustrated playwright thrilled at this opportunity to combine both passions into this “Thanksgiving Play”.
Logan’s grant requires her to actually hire a Native American to be a core part of this project and since she hasn’t had any luck finding anyone to fit that bill locally (she doesn’t actually know any Native Americans) she finds and then hires Alicia, a young actress from Los Angeles to come to their unnamed town to add her “authentic voice” to their production. But, Alicia isn’t exactly who you think she is and that forms one of the many strands of plot in the play.
And, the charms of this play center on the dynamic between these four characters and the humor created as they struggle to create a politically correct/socially responsible version of a very familiar story. Ms Fasthorse has a knack for creating snappy dialogue and comedic situations that never feel overly preachy…she’s making some wry points here about how white people deal with indigenous people and their culture and their shared history which has mostly consisted of heartache and degradation towards those native people. She’s making fun of the overly woke but it’s not vindictive. Logan means well and she wants to do the right thing and Ms Fasthorse writes the character (and the other three as well) with great affection. She gives all four of them, despite their faults, some nice depth even the apparently more shallow characters like the Hollywood actress who ends up imparting some wise words of advice to Logan. But, the playwright isn’t afraid to zap them either or to create some very outrageous bits that are a bit shocking and maybe even a tad “incorrect”…which, frankly, makes this play a lot of cheeky fun.
The script is a clever one and the cast is very good at inhabiting those characters. Andrew Shanks is appropriately fumbling yet sweet as the history teacher Caden and Martyn G. Krouse, in a fantastic shaggy wig, is very funny as the earnestly silly hippie/hipster boyfriend Jaxton. And, Zenaida Rose Smith is also terrific as the smartly shallow actress who is very aware of where her strengths are and the importance of playing to them.
But, most of all I adored Jonelle Jordan as the haplessly harried Logan who has to center all the madness. Playing that kind of role in a comedy is tough…it’s like Mary Tyler Moore in her old show where Mary Richards had to be the mostly sane one surrounded by the zanier characters with the wackier personalities. Except here, the playwright has given Logan some great bits of business (including vamping herself up after some advice from the actress Alicia) and Ms Jordan has a lot of fun with the character and the comedic frustrations she has to portray.
It has a smart script with great direction from Kelly Kitchens, a fabulous cast and great design elements including a very sly and clever sound/music design by D.R. Amromin and a great use of projections by Jared Norman….Seattle Public’s The Thanksgiving Play is very much recommended as a clever seasonal comedy treat that won’t induce “turkey coma” after ingesting it.