A minister and a scientist walked into a funeral home…
|Strange Tree Group presents|
|The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn|
Review by Katy Walsh
The Strange Tree Group presents the World Premiere of The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn.
Two brothers. Two mothers. One dead dad. Playwright Elizabeth Bagby’s story begins in a funeral home. Joseph Mendelssohn is being mourned by his wife, her son and his son by his first wife. The service is respectfully somber until his first wife shows up. Then, it’s irreverently accusatory. Alice abandoned her husband and son twenty years ago. Now, she’s back claiming to be the love of Joseph’s life. Her son Theo agrees with her. And since he’s built a time machine, he decides to go back to the day his mother left and prevent her departure. Nicholas opposes the idea because if Alice doesn’t leave, his mother won’t marry Joseph. Without that marriage, Nicholas won’t exist. Or will he?
Bagby probes existence from a faith versus science perspective. One brother is a scientist. One brother is a minister. Although Bagby makes them very different, she has them fall for the same person. Their love triangle is one of many featured in the play. Bagby’s exploration of a past intervention interference creates multiple and varied outcomes in who-loves-who. The premise is intriguing if not complicated.
It’s very “Back to the Future: The 1900’s Version” but propagated. There are more characters. There is more time travel. With all the shenanigan scenarios, the human connections fray. We don’t really get a firm grasp of the characters. We may know what they say they want but we don’t know or understand why. Ultimately, we don’t know how we should want this to end.
Despite the complexity of the story, Director Thrisa Hodits injects a light-hearted tone that produces some comedic moments. The brothers, Stuart Ritter (Theo) and Brandon Ruiter (Nicholas), have a sibling rivalry. Their roughhouse antics are more playful than sinister. The eccentric Ritter is big-brother-blustery. The golden boy Ruiter is little-brother-pest. They display an authentic brotherly antagonism. Throughout the past-present-future chaos, a dimwitted Andy Hager (Angelus) is a buoy in the muddled waters. His pop-up arrivals just slow down the scene. It’s a reprieve for the audience to sort through the relational havoc. A deadpan Hager hilariously inserts one line or even one word zingers.
The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn has a lot to say about life choices at different moments in time. The story is here. It’s just buried under a dead body. Bagby needs to tighten up her tale to give The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn a more robust and compelling life story.
The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn continues through July 20th at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 7pm. Tickets are $25, and are available online through Eventbrite.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at StrangeTree.com. (Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Emily Schwartz
Cory Aiello (Christopher Herbert), Kate Nawrocki (Alice), Stuart Ritter (Theo Mendelssohn), Jenifer Starewich (Henrietta) Audrey Flegel (Margaret), Andy Hager (Angelus), Brandon Ruiter (Nicholas Mendelssohn), Joe Stearns (Joseph).
behind the scenes
Thrisa Hodit (director), Emily Schwartz (co-scenic design, photos), Kate Nawrocki (co-scenic design), Delia Baseman (costume design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Michael Huey (sound design), Wes Clark (violence choreography), Ben Dawson (technical director), John Kelly (master electrician), Becky Bishop (stage manager).