Whatever else you do between now and May 26, you should try to see “The Brothers Paranormal” at Penumbra. Here’s why.
- It’s the first-ever co-production by Theater Mu, a major Asian American theater company, and Penumbra Theater, a major African American theater company. Two pathbreaking cultural institutions based in St. Paul, probably the only U.S. city that can claim both kinds of theater companies.
- It’s written by Prince Gomolvilas, who calls himself the “world’s only Thai American playwright” (and insists he has built his entire career on that claim). Remember that name.
- Billed as “a darkly comic thriller,” it’s genuinely scary in parts. On the night we saw it, after a scene that made most of us jump in our seats, two women near the front stood up and ran out.
- It’s a really good story. An African American couple who fled the ravages of Katrina are haunted by what appears to be an Asian ghost with anger issues. The wife reaches out to a ghost-busting business started by two Thai brothers — one an immigrant, one born here to immigrant parents. Everyone in the play has been displaced. Everyone is grieving. No one is where they feel they belong.
- It’s brilliantly written — spooky, touching, illuminating, funny, sad and sweet. Also serious and insightful about things like the immigrant experience and mental illness. We read the script afterward, and so many clues are scattered around it, so many sly hints dropped that we’d go again just to see it through that wised-up lens. (If you’ve ever seen David Mamet’s film “The Spanish Prisoner,” “The Brothers Paranormal” is kind of like that. Everything you need to know is right there in front of you. You just don’t recognize it. Like Mamet, Gomolvilas distracts you, then pulls the rug out from under you.)
- It’s perfectly cast. You can’t do better than Sherwin Resurreccion (as Max, the brother born here), Kurt Kwan (Visarut, Max’s older brother), Leslie Ishii (Tasanee, their mother), Regina Marie Williams and James Craven (the loving African American couple whose lives are turned upside-down) and Michelle de Joya, an actor/dancer/acrobat/yoga instructor who brings all those skills to her role as Jai, the ghost. While the production does include some special effects, de Joya’s moves are all hers.
- For a small theater without pots of money, the production is a standout. Big set pieces appear and go away. Moods are created and changed by sound and lighting. With no CGI, it’s still scary. All because of real people doing real things in real time. Old school can be amazing. Props to scenic designer Vicki Smith, costume designer Mathew LeFebvre, lighting designer Karin Olson, scound designer Scott Edwards and the directors, Lou Bellamy and assistant Sun Mee Chomet.
And that’s all we’ll say about this very special play. Except for this: “The Brothers Paranormal” includes some big surprises that deserve to be experienced in the theater, in the moment. So far, no one who has written about this production has leaked any spoilers. At least, no one we’ve read. Let’s keep up the good work, people.
P.S. If you’re wondering how Prince Gomolvilas got his first name, it was given to him by a kindergarten teacher in Indianapolis who couldn’t pronounce his Thai name, Khamolpat, or his nickname, Bin. So the teacher called him Prince.
Tonight (Wednesday, May 8) at the Cedar: My Brightest Diamond with Tunde Olaniran. Also known as Shara Nova, and before then Shara Worden, My Brightest Diamond was last in Minneapolis for the U.S. premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Unremembered” with Liquid Music. Now she’s out with her own latest album, “A Million and One.” She is so unique, so smart, so seemingly boundless, equally at home in indie rock, classical and new music that it’s worth going to hear her no matter what she’s up to. She reminds us of Kate Bush and Björk and no one at all. Opening act Olaniran is a singer, songwriter, producer, rapper, choreographer, author, activist etc. from Flint, Michigan. Doors at 7 p.m. show at 7:30. All-ages standing show. FMI and tickets ($18/20).
Friday through Sunday from Harris to Shafer, Sunrise to Taylors Falls, North Branch to Lindstrom: 27th Annual St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour. Follow the red-pot-on-a-yellow-ground signs from studio to studio in this greatest of all Minnesota pottery tours. Eight career studio potters in seven locations will host 47 guest potters and welcome thousands of aficionados, collectors, and the curious. See, touch, hold, talk about and maybe bring home some of the high-quality, handmade functional pottery for which Minnesota is internationally known. Find the cup, bowl, plate or pitcher you’ll use for years. This show is also a major gift-buying opportunity and Christmas isn’t that far away. Here’s a map (you can pick up a printed version at the first studio you visit). Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. FMI. This tour will be especially poignant for those who know the pottery scene. Robert Briscoe, one of the original founders, has retired, and this will be his final tour. Find him (and his pots) at Matt Krousey’s studio (formerly Bob’s studio) in Harris.
Saturday in (mostly) Uptown: 4th Annual Lit Crawl. As if the Loft’s new Wordplay festival isn’t enough — it starts Friday and runs through Sunday, bringing a zillion authors to town for a big old books party — Lit Crawl will return to Uptown on Saturday night. (It started at 3 p.m. last year and will begin at 6 p.m. this year, giving time for people at Wordplay to Lyft, bus or bike to the other side of town.) Events at six different locations – Bryant Lake Bowl, Highpoint Center for Printmaking, Zoe’s Café, Morrissey’s Irish Pub and the Red Stag (wait, that’s not in Uptown) – will include a rock record party, literary bingo, Literary Death Match, Nerd Jeopardy, a pun contest and, you know, more. FMI.