Middle Brother by Mu Performing Arts, performing at the Southern Theater

 

Michael Sung-Ho and Eric Sharp in Middle Brother. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Michael Sung-Ho and Eric Sharp in Middle Brother. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Mu Performing Arts continues its ongoing exploration of adoption (and specifically Korean adoption) with an production of Eric Sharp‘s entertaining Middle Brother (at the Southern, through September 28). The play is witty, creative and incisively intelligent, all at the same time.

And it’s also a birth family search and this has very nearly become a sub-genre onto itself (one immediately thinks of Katie Hae Leo and Sun-Mee Chomet‘s terrific The Origin(s) Project). (Leo, it’s worth mentioning, is the author of Four Destinies, produced at Mu a few seasons ago, which deals, effectively, with similar subject matter). Thus, on a basic level, one feels with Middle Brother that one has seen it all before.

Ah, but: Sharp plays the lead, Billy (Sharp stars as well as writes; Middle Brother is definitely the Eric Sharp show) with a goofy and goony befuddled flair that entertains endlessly (and still makes me giggle to think about it). Sharp single-handedly pulls Middle Brother up onto a genre-busting level.

Billy rassels with the same malaise we all do: what’s it all about? Who am I really? Am I supposed to just veg out here in Iowa, and watch the corn grow?

But Billy has an advantage that most of us lack: he was adopted. He can travel to Korea, find his birth family, imbibe the rich Korean culture. Billy’s brother, Gabe (also Korean in origin) wants nothing to do with all this, but Billy makes the trip, clutching his American backpack and winging across the (chalked on the theater floor) wide Pacific.

To Korea.

“Holy crap,” Billy sings (tunelessly, while the other characters whack themselves, and Billy, with plastic mallets), “I was born here.” The portrait of Korea as an opaque, bizarre, dense, endlessly confusing (to Billy) environment is screamingly funny. The ineffably wonderful Sara Ochs (possessor of a truly unique talent) plays Mrs. Park, the adoption agency lady whose grasp of English about equals her interest in Billy himself (neither is high). Sherwin Resurreccion plays Billy’s (putatively) longlost brother brilliantly. Michael Sung-Ho plays Gabe (and a number of other characters) with lean and compelling energy. Also very good are Audrey Park and Su-Yoon Ko as the swing actors. Indeed, Middle Brother enjoys a terrific production (directed deftly by Robert Rosen). John Francis Bueche has created a terrific paper-mâche-ish set, simultaneously solid and ephemeral. All lovely.

I would be derelict in my duty as your reviewer if I didn’t point out that Middle Brother is, in addition to entertaining and literate, often garbled, confusing and repetitive. But don’t worry, there is enough energy and zest on the Southern stage (the best, imo, in the Cities) to make all this ignorable. Don’t hesitate to go.

For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.

 

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