Stunning, haunting, and entrancing are the words that came to mind as I watched Olney Theatre Center’s production of Prince Gomolvilas’ play “The Brothers Paranormal.” The show’s deeply engaging storyline and edge-of-your-seat plot twists aside, the success of this play is the result of numerous, amazing elements—script, direction, actors, production design—coming together to hit a pitch-perfect theatrical note that is simply hard to top.
Stunning, haunting, and entrancing…the success of this play is the result of numerous, amazing elements—script, direction, actors, production design—coming together to hit a pitch-perfect theatrical note that is simply hard to top.
The story really centers on two characters, Max and Delia. While the other characters certainly are instrumental to the way in which events unfold, it is around Max and Delia that everything else pivots—both the real world drama and the supernatural storylines. Max and his Brother Visarut, or V, have started a ghost debunking business. Max is a realist and his feet are firmly planted in this world. Money is his motivator here, not necessarily some ghostbuster crusade to help guide unwanted spirits from one life to the next—or so this is how the playwright initially draws the no-nonsense unbeliever. Enter, Delia.
Delia’s life has been recently upended thanks to the presence of the paranormal. She hears noises and the voice of who she believes to be a young Thai woman—an apparition she also eventually sees. Delia is coming undone. In desperation, she turns to Max for help, maxing out her credit card to pay for his services.
Delia and her husband Felix are recent transplants to the Midwest, relocating from their Louisiana home because of Katrina. Max also is a relatively new Midwesterner. His move is prompted by the dire straits of both his mother and brother. The former is afflicted by mental illness and the latter grapples with alcohol addiction. The play certainly does not shy away from weightier subjects, but still manages to find that comic vein that keeps the performance moving at a spirited pace. You likely will not be checking your watch during this one.
There is so much to this plot that it would be quite difficult to encapsulate all of its finer points here. Nor do I want to give away the multiple spoilers. It seems that turn after turn, something (or someone) else unexpected is rearing its head. Let’s just say, it is a spectacular show, especially for this time of year.
The cast as a whole works so incredibly well together that it is nearly impossible to single out any one performance. As the beleaguered Delia, Lolita Marie, just off a triumphant run in Keegan Theatre’s “Sweat,” again demonstrates her gift for sharply-defined, cutting performances that get right to the emotional core of things. Tommy Bo’s Max is a truly heartfelt rendition of a young man struggling to understand how he’s supposed to operate in the here and now. Eymard Cabling as Visarut, Max’s somewhat silent, prone-to-ironic-expressions brother, does a marvelous job of setting the pace and serving as the stalwart magnet for his younger brother’s anger, sadness, and disappointment. As Delia’s husband Felix, DeJeanette Horne brings an important weightiness to the play that wonderfully counterpoints Lolita Marie’s performance, particularly as she begins to question her own sanity. Cindy Chang as Tasanee deftly and also quite comically embodies the mother Max both longs for and shies away from. It is perhaps Justine “Icy” Moral’s performance as Jai, the misunderstood specter, that is most surprising and, in some ways, most captivating. She has no dialogue so her metamorphic reliance is on movement and expression.
Hallie Gordon and Aria Velz co-direct. Collectively, they seem to naturally intuit how to walk that line between funny and poignant. They’ve built a play with so many “what ifs,” exits and entrances, and tangled connections, it is almost dizzying to figure out how they manage to keep it all so tight. The production design adds yet another layer of wonderment to a stellar production. That team includes Misha Kachman (set design), Minjoo Kim (lighting), Sarah O’Halloran (sound), Jeannette Christensen (costumes), and Jim Steinmeyer and Robert Ramirez (illusions). Kudos to all. “The Brothers Paranormal” is more than just a play, it is an entire experience. Missing this one is not an option for true theatre aficionados.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Contains discussions of mental health and suicide.
“The Brothers Paranormal” runs through October 29, 2023 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.