hey brother

A 20something Asian-American adoptee fantasizes about the sibling she might possibly have in China as a pair of North Carolina brothers find their real-life relationship considerably thornier than the one she can only imagine in Bekah Brunstetter’s World Premiere dramedy hey brother, the terrific latest from the company of young artists who call themselves Fresh Produce’d L.A.

10479886_864318283607868_4753139712108819935_o Financial planner Ben (Graham Outerbridge) has invited his grad student younger brother Isaac (Lucas Dixon) to crash at his Wilmington beachside house, an arrangement Ben terms a temporary one as he waits in seeming vain for his estranged girlfriend to have a change of heart about cohabitation.

kahyun-1024x682 While Ben spends his nights boozing (and trying to convince his party-pooper of a brother to join him), Isaac finds himself increasingly taken by Kris (Kahyun Kim), the pretty fellow grad student he’s struck up a conversation with at the school library, immediately found and friended on Facebook, and quickly bonded with over their shared love of history.

Kris, meanwhile, is hard at work on an autobiographical performance piece in which her fictionalized self connects with the Chinese couple who gave her up for adoption and the brother who might well be living 7000 miles away, scenes Kris enacts with a pair of fellow classmates (Dixon and Outerbridge in dual roles).

10403519_10153419164564741_7934431669675009586_n Adding to potentially potent mix are a pair of offstage mothers with a shared yen for the bottle, the boys’ clinging mom and Kris’s more standoffish parent, and booze, plenty of booze to fuel the incendiary mix when the emotionally needy Kris finds herself torn between two brothers.

Anyone who’s caught Bekah Brunstetter’s off-Broadway hit Be A Good Little Widow or the recent World Premiere of her Little Man can attest to the playwright’s ease at segueing from the comedic to the dramatic and back again, and her gift for giving edgy voice to Generation Y, two very good reasons to catch her latest.

That Brunstetter writes with authenticity and insight about male siblings further illustrates the playwright’s ability to get into the heads of characters far different from herself. (Be A Good Little Widow’s grieving mother is another example.) Ben and Isaac’s love-hate relationship is so convincing that it seems hard to believe they’ve not been written by a man, and the longings of Asian-American orphan Kris ring equally true.

10003691_865393333500363_7343292787607851140_o It does take a while for hey brother to reveal that it has more up its sleeve than a mere fly-on-the-wall look at assorted “scenes in the lives of …,” and a ten-minute trim of the first hour might get us more quickly to the last thirty minutes where stuff really happens.

Once the proverbial shit does hit the fan, however, don’t be surprised to find yourself quite literally on the edge of your seat because when beer turns to wine turns to the hard stuff, only Brunstetter knows where her combustible mix of characters are headed.

Like Los Angeles New Court Theatre, who produced Bekah Brunstetter’s previous World Premiere just two months ago, and IAMA Theatre Company, who just scored three Ovation Awards including Best Production, Fresh Produce’d L.A. is that unique-to-L.A. phenomenon—a group of young BFA and MFA grads whose migration to Tinseltown has not only not precluded a return to their theatrical roots, it has made doing theater an absolute artistic must, and our city’s theater scene is the richer for their presence.

10805704_10153389381354741_3023282840128794120_n hey brother is most definitely enriched by the electric direction of NYU Tisch School Of The Arts BFA grad Alexis Jacknow and the couldn’t-be-better trio of L.A.-based up-and-comers who bring Brunstetter’s words to thrilling life on the Son Of Semele stage.

Acting schools don’t get any more prestigious than the Yale School Of Drama, San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, or The Juilliard School, so it’s hardly surprising that recent MFA grads Dixon (Yale) and Outerbridge (A.C.T.) and BFA grad Kim (Juilliard) deliver the goods—and then some.

With the torso of an Olympic weightlifter and the sensitivity and soul of a Byronic hero, Dixon’s Isaac commands the stage throughout, and never more so than when push quite literally comes to shove with an equally sensational Outerbridge, pitch-perfect as bad bro Ben, and though the two actors look nothing at all alike, it’s easy to buy their two-and-a-half decades of prickly-heated sibling rivalry. Kim matches her male costars every step of the way, a breath of fresh air in a house that needs an airing, and a performance of such purity and depth that a single birthday cupcake can bring up oceans of emotion.

hey-brother-2 Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo’s simple but effective set (decorated by Rajan Velu’s props, including more liquor bottles than I could possibly count) gives us Ben’s beach front house in all its drabness and clutter, aided and abetted by Lauren Wemischner’s impressive lighting design and sound designer Tracy Woodward’s multiple effects. Amelia Phillips’ costumes reflect the characters wearing them to perfection. Fight director Noshir Dalal has choreographed some very realistic punches.

hey brother is produced by Riva Di Paola and Dixon. Mercedes Segesvary is stage manager.

If Be A Good Little Widow made me a Bekah Brunstetter fan and Little Man provided additional confirmation of her talents, hey brother cements my fan status.

Anyone who doubts that theater can be as relevant and appealing to Millennials as it is to the blue-haired set that continues to see theater as a viable alternative to moviegoing or staying glued to the tube need only check out the latest from Fresh Produce’d L.A. for proof of the contrary.

Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
December 6, 2014
Photos: Joseph Bornilla

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