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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: Brothers From the Bottom

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 3:45 PM

click to enlarge Kevin Mambo and Wendell Pierce star in Brothers From the Bottom. - HELEN L. COLLEN
  • Kevin Mambo and Wendell Pierce star in Brothers From the Bottom.

Four years after Hurricane Katrina, Trey moves into the house next to his older brother Chris. Trey, who’s been practicing law in New York City, sees the neighborhood where he grew up as a business opportunity for what he calls “revitalization” of the city. Chris opposes his brother’s venture, and their battle over gentrification widens an already large family rift in Brothers from the Bottom at NOCCA’s Lupin Hall.

Jackie Alexander wrote and directed Brothers, which debuted at Brooklyn’s Billie Holiday Theatre and this production features the same cast, including Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme) and Kevin Mambo (Guiding Light, Fela!).

Trey (Wendell Franklin) returns to New Orleans with his wife Lindsey (Megan Robinson) to assist his friend and business colleague James (Thaddeus Daniels). The men work for a group that is buying homes to make room for a proposed medical complex in the neighborhood. Trey believes the project will benefit the community, and Chris (Pierce) thinks the change will destroy it.

Franklin’s initially detached approach to his character, who constantly says he dislikes New Orleans, is crucial to making this character believable. The show hinges on Trey’s arc, and Franklin delivers an emotional performance. Lindsey is the only character not from the neighborhood, and she voices questions that audience members might have about the changes. Robinson is charming in the role, whose quirkiness includes impromptu operatic singing.

Chris unwittingly finds himself in a pivotal position in the debate, and Pierce is special whenever he is onstage, bringing passion and complexity to the role. He goes from flirting with his wife in one moment to a ferocious defense of his neighborhood in the next. Chris’ relationship with his wife Malika (Toccarra Cash) is worthy of a sitcom in the way they support and challenge each other. Pierce and Cash share playful energy, and Cash brings warmth and wit to the show.

The two brothers often engage in intense yelling matches, but the show balances the drama with humor. Lou (Mambo) is always at Chris’ house sitting on the porch or playing spades. He’s full of pithy one-liners, especially about Malika’s cooking. Mambo’s comedic timing and physical delivery are brilliant.

Politically inclined dramas can beat the audience over the head with a message, but this show masterfully blends the political with the personal to make the characters’ emotional stakes feel real. The family literally shares a house divided. They share a wall, and even when mad at each other, they share a pot of red beans. In recounting their shared history, they address the city’s post-Katrina reality through an important lens.

Brothers from the Bottom is a vital piece of theater because it focuses on the people and neighborhoods affected by gentrification. The show engages a tough conversation while imparting a strong message of hope and fellowship.

June 26-28
Brothers From the Bottom
8 p.m. Fri.; 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Sat.; 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. Sun.
Lupin Hall, NOCCA, 2800 Chartres St., (504) 940-2800

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