As the audience takes their seats at Our Brother’s Son, they are treated to a well-appointed set designed by Adam Koch, which includes a beautifully painted backlit scrim, and three different locations which are cleverly rotated throughout the play on a turntable, each one perfectly depicting the three living spaces of the play’s characters.
Once the play begins, a few scenes go by to establish the tightly integrated family that makes up this story: three adult siblings, Leo (Allen McCullough), David (Dan Sharkey) and Gail (LeeAnne Hutchison), Leo’s wife Susan (Midori Nakamura), David’s wife Mindy (Liz Larsen), and David and Mindy’s 20-something son, Bradley (Harrison Chad).
The audience soon learns that Leo has a pressing medical condition that propels him and his wife Susan to lean on the rest of the family with requests for an organ donation. This news propels the story into high gear, testing the priorities, allegiances, and family bonds of each of the characters.
Freshman playwright Charles Gluck, a retired gastroenterologist who has finally followed his dream to write a play, has turned out one terrific piece of theater. There is virtually no superfluous dialogue in this script; almost every line serves a specific purpose, whether it’s to provide key exposition, continue to build the play’s fully three-dimensional characters or to accelerate and intensify the dramatic through point.
The script is so fully packed with conflicts, revelations, betrayals, and disappointments that it runs dangerously close to trying to cover too much material, like a cup of coffee poured so full that only surface tension keeps it from spilling over, and one dares not move it without taking a few sips from the top first. In lesser hands, this play would have its audience overwhelmed and throwing up its hands at each newly introduced piece of information, but it actually works, thanks to brilliant direction by David Alpert, who deftly orchestrates the character builds and disclosures, bringing out stellar performances by the actors.
Going alphabetically by characters here, because every one of the actors gives exquisite performances: Chad’s portrayal as David and Mindy’s slothful, resentment-filled, post-grad couch-potato son Bradley is typical and funny, yet full of innocent love and tenderness at all the right moments.
Hutchison’s turn as the fastidious got-it-all-together Gail, single sister of Leo and David, is tightly composed until she isn’t, and her earnestness and emotional conflict is palpable. The single moment where she renders her decision to her brother Leo and his wife Susan is breath-taking.
I haven’t seen Liz Larsen on the stage since Starmites, and boy, have I missed out. Her take on Mindy, the overbearing and dominating Jewish mother and wife could have easily been played too big and with no dimension, but armed with a great script and fierce character choices Larsen infuses the role with the fire, passion, love, and protectiveness of a lioness.
McCullough’s challenge is to win the audience’s compassion despite his character Leo’s selfish, controlling, big-brother arrogance. McCullough balances Leo’s defects with a vulnerability and humility that truly tugs at the heartstrings of Leo’s most stubborn detractors.
Much like Larsen as Mindy for her husband David, Nakamura as Susan pulls no punches in going to bat for her husband Leo, pushing any buttons and calling out any transgressions to get the family to do the right thing for Leo. When her dedication is shattered by betrayal, Nakamura breaks your heart with Susan’s wounded disappointment.
Sharkey’s role as David, hen-pecked by his wife Mindy and dominated by his brother Leo, seems spineless at first but Sharkey imbues the part with a quiet strength that ultimately champions David as the quiet underdog who follows his heart despite what everyone else wants him to do.
Each of the actors are so totally engaged in listening to each other and maintaining an inner dialogue that they’re a joy to watch.
From a technical standpoint, the lighting design by Alan Edwards works expertly in tandem with Koch’s set, guiding the audience’s attention and focus exactly where it needs to go on the spinning stage and setting the appropriate moods during the transitions. Lindsay McWilliams’ costume design is in total alignment with the characters, fully supporting and extending their attributes through their clothing.
One final mention regarding Gluck’s script: there is a short exchange between David and his son Bradley, where Bradley claims he was the son no one wanted and that his father David was never there for him, and should have fought more for him, etc. Unlike all the other relationship developments of the play which are backed up by carefully planted exposition, this exchange seems to come out of nowhere, ringing false and extraneous, breaking the verisimilitude of the moment the two are having in the scene. Except for this one moment, I was all in. Oh, and the ending was simply perfect!
Our Brother’s Son is a compelling, beautifully acted story about just how far the love of family will carry in the face of selfishness and strife. I can’t wait to see it again.
Our Brother’s Son (April 24 – June 24, 2022)
Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.ourbrotherssonplay.com
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission