photos by Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire
Felix (Eddie Jones ), Della (Vivian Melde), Max (Mike Rao) and Visarut (Phai Giron) sit on high alert for signs of the supernatural during a rehearsal of “The Brothers Paranormal” at Perseverance Theatre. The play, which opens Friday tells the story of two Thai American brothers hired by a Black couple to investigate a ghost.

photos by Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire Felix (Eddie Jones ), Della (Vivian Melde), Max (Mike Rao) and Visarut (Phai Giron) sit on high alert for signs of the supernatural during a rehearsal of “The Brothers Paranormal” at Perseverance Theatre. The play, which opens Friday tells the story of two Thai American brothers hired by a Black couple to investigate a ghost.

Representation takes center stage

Thai American and Black communities are at the forefront of theater’s new play.

It’s not often a play like “The Brothers Paranormal” comes to a theater like Perseverance Theatre.

The theater on Douglas Island is just the second non-Asian, non-Black theater to stage a production of the play by Prince Gomolvilas. It opens Friday.

“The Brothers Paranormal,” which tells the story of a pair of Thai-American brothers hired by a Black couple to investigate an “Asian-Looking” ghost, has been in the theater’s plans since before the pandemic, said artistic director Leslie Ishii in an interview. However, the pandemic delayed bringing it to the stage.

While the delay’s cause isn’t a welcome one, Ishii said the show now opens at a fitting time.

“Here we are opening during the Black History Month, and that’s beautiful, too,” said Ishii, who will be reprising a role she helped originate in 2019 when the play opened in St. Paul, Minnesota, as a joint effort between Theater Mu and Penumbra Theatre.

Randy Reyes, an award-winning theater artist and past board president of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists, then with Theater Mu recruited Ishii for the role of Tasanee for that run. Reyes is directing Perseverance’s take on the play.

Randy Reyes, an accomplished director and actor, is directing Perseverance Theatre’s production of “The Brothers Paranormal.” Reyes has a history of working closely with the show’s playwright Prince Gomolvilas. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Randy Reyes, an accomplished director and actor, is directing Perseverance Theatre’s production of “The Brothers Paranormal.” Reyes has a history of working closely with the show’s playwright Prince Gomolvilas. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

“It was a beautiful production,” Ishii said. “I just got to witness audiences, every single show, love the show for so many reasons.”

While Ishii is Japanese American, and the character is Thai, Reyes and Ishii said there was difficulty filling the role with a Thai actor.

Tasanee (Leslie Ishii) casts a stern glance at Max (Mike Rao) after a bout of bickering between Max and his brother.

Tasanee (Leslie Ishii) casts a stern glance at Max (Mike Rao) after a bout of bickering between Max and his brother.

A concerted effort was made to cast Thai actors in the Perseverance Theatre production. With three actors of Thai descent Perseverance Theatre’s production features the most Thai American actors portraying Thai characters of any past production of “The Brothers Paranormal.”

“I commend Perseverance for this,” Reyes said in an interview. “It’s not enough for them to just bring in Thai American actors. It’s what happens when they’re here. Do they feel supported? Do they feel like they can find community?”

He said the production is an example of inclusion done well.

In addition to casting Thai American actors, Ishii and Reyes said a Thai American cultural consultant offered insight, too.

“Just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I’m an expert on Thailand or Thai culture,” Reyes said. He said an ethos of “make no assumptions” and “research, research, research” was employed.

“To have a theater that supports that 100%, a million percent, is a revelation,” Reyes said.

While “The Brothers Paranormal” is a play with horror trappings that tells a story populated by a Black couple and a Thai family, Reyes said it’s a work with broad appeal and themes that transcend nationality or genre thrills.

A flashlight’s beam casts extra light on the frightened face of Della (Vivian Melde) during rehearsal for “The Brothers Paranormal.” (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A flashlight’s beam casts extra light on the frightened face of Della (Vivian Melde) during rehearsal for “The Brothers Paranormal.” (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Reyes said the show’s themes and construction make it “an automatic modern classic.” Reyes who has worked closely with playwright Gomolvilas said this is among the first Gomolvilas’ works to plumb his personal life. It’s a source of authenticity and emotion that comes across in a piece that also includes some fantastical frights.

“When you start to write from your heart, from really deep down, from your authentic self that’s where beautiful things are created,” Reyes said.

Rio Alberto, director of marketing and engagement for Perseverance Theatre, noted that for artists of color, there’s often a qualifier before their titles.

Alberto, who is Chicano, said playwrights like Gomolvilas or Vera Starbard, who is Tlingit and Dena’ina, aren’t just a great Thai American and Alaska Native artist, respectively. They’re great artists whose work is enriched by their respective cultures and can be enjoyed by any audience.

“Our works are not just for our own communities,” Alberto said.

Reyes said during rehearsal, it’s been fun to discover cultural commonalities. That echoes motifs from the play, which underscores that while the particulars of food, music or family may be different, there’s a lot of overlap in the pillars that make up a culture.

Felix (Eddie Jones) rolls his eyes at relative youngsters Visarut (Phai Giron) and Max (Mike Rao). (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Felix (Eddie Jones) rolls his eyes at relative youngsters Visarut (Phai Giron) and Max (Mike Rao). (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

While works about communities of color aren’t restricted to those communities, representation in art is important to often marginalized people. Ishii said Perseverance Theatre remains thoughtful and intentional in representing a diverse array of humanity.

“When you’re represented on stage, and you feel heard, it’s very exciting, it just affirms your humanity,” Ishii said.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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