The biggest scares in “The Brothers Paranormal” are existential.
Unpleasantness, stress, challenges, suffering, loss, death and aching sadness are inevitable parts of life. Addiction, isolation, a sense of otherness, self-harm and family strife touch many lives too. The inescapable reality of these negative experiences haunts the main characters of Perseverance Theatre’s latest play as persistently as any ghost —but there is at least one pretty scary ghost in the play, too.
That’s not to say “The Brothers Paranormal,” directed by Randy Reyes, is especially dark or dour.
Prince Gomolvilas’ play about two ghost-hunting brothers hired by a Black couple to investigate a potential haunting crackles with banter. There are memorable exchanges between the couple, Felix (Eddie Jones) and Delia (Vivian Melde); the brothers, Max (Mike Rao) and Visarut (Phai Giron); the brothers and their mother, Tasanee (Leslie Ishii, also Perseverance Theatre’s artistic Director); and a few other permutations.
The jokes landed with the play’s opening night audience and drew earnest laughs.
That’s in large part because of warm performances from the show’s core four. Elizabeth Lynn Rakphongphairoj Kilrain is incredibly memorable as Jai, but the menacing, paranormal nature of that character doesn’t do much to lift the mood.
Instead, buoyancy comes from performances grounded in recognizable dynamics that still manage to gently subvert archetypes. Max and Visarut butt heads and have an “Odd Couple” dynamic but work together well and care for each other. Tasanee is a demanding mom and a fish out of water, but Ishii allows affection and impish energy to shine through while also delivering an improbable “Conan the Barbarian” reference. Felix and Della are a long-married couple who like to needle each other, but Jones and Melde sell them as a couple in L-U-V love with more commonalities than differences. There is generational friction between the older Black couple and the younger Thai-American brothers, but “The Brothers Paranormal” shows the four share surprisingly deep similarities.
Despite all that warmth, dark motifs are an undertow dragging characters toward their fates. For some characters, that winds up leading to something like contentment and hope. For others, it’s more ambiguous.
“The Brothers Paranormal” is a rare piece to include multiple audacious twists and generally make them feel earned.
If the play has a singular thesis, it’s that everything has an origin. “There is no new thing under the sun,” is quoted; cities and nations of origin are referenced extensively; and a not-insignificant amount of time is spent detailing the history of coffee. Anguish, hauntings and game-changing twists all have traceable beginnings in “The Brothers Paranormal,” too.
So while it’s not uncommon for something in the horror genre to drop a stomach-dropping twist that comes out of nowhere, there are — in hindsight — some reasonable hints toward reveals and careful structuring guided by rules you only recognize after you know what game is being played.
That refusal to indulge in cheap reveals makes sense for a play that includes dialogue extolling the virtue of Ella Fitzgerald on vinyl and coffee brewed in ways more complex than automatic drip.
You don’t need a snobby sensibility to appreciate “The Brothers Paranormal” —the acting, a memorable plot, dynamic set and jokes take care of that —but if you are inclined toward pretentiousness the obvious craft and care is an extra treat.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.