Brother by Lisa Ebersole is a post-modern melodrama — in the sense that the pieces of the puzzle never quite fit together although they give the impression they do.
Margeaux (Becca Chapman) enters a cozy living room about 4 a.m. She’s drenched from a downpour. Soon she is joined by Jamie (Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth), who fusses at her about drinking and smoking. The two are opposites, both physically — Margeaux is slim and brunette, Jamie is portly and blonde— and in general attitudes. Margeaux has a tough, smart-aleck vibe and Jamie seems prim and proper.
The play starts with twists and turns, and it leaves room for some that seem inexplicable. One of the first twists comes when a man (Gamal Abdel Chasten) peeks out of a door and asks for a plunger. The women lounge on the couch and chat about bathrooms, public toilets and such. Their quips, like much of the dialogue, walk a fine line between funny and distasteful.
Eventually the man enters the living room and says his name is Carl. He is black, and the women say they expected a more exotic name. The soft-core racism continues when Jamie offers Carl chitlins for a snack. As an example of her smart-aleck attitude, Margeaux tries to entice Carl with talk about sadomasochism. There’s also a short scene in which she tells him about using a vibrator and asks how often he masturbates.
We learn Margeaux and Jamie are sisters and Margeaux has fallen on hard times. She’s been crashing on people’s couches and sleeping in a gym where she has a membership.
Meanwhile, they all keep drinking. Jamie decides she wants to party because it’s her 26th birthday. She puts on music and starts to cut loose. While dancing provocatively with Carl, her husband Kevin (Ross Britz) comes home.
Kevin is a paralegal and he is, perhaps, the most perplexing member of this odd crew. That first image of his wife shimmying with Carl underlies upheaval that follows — although, the pieces of the story never quite fit together in a convincing way.
Kevin has a pronounced attachment to his residence and often says “my” home — particularly when ordering other characters out it. Kevin screams at Margeaux to get out of his home, and he confronts Jamie as the conflict turns hostile.
Director Sarah Zoghbi gathered a talented cast and keeps the hourlong one-act moving. Brother was produced off Broadway in New York in 2005, and the playwright collaborated with the Elm Theatre to set the play in New Orleans. The script is uneven, but worth a look if you want to catch up on the state of contemporary theater.
Brother runs at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Aug. 6 at the Elm Theatre. No performance Friday, July 8.