Theater Review: THE BROTHERS PARANORMAL (East West Players)

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by William C. on December 5, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


Ghosts, paranormal investigators, and a loving couple that just moved to their new home — it sounds like a reality TV series for binge watching. The Brothers Paranormal at East West Players turns out to be anything but. Instead, audiences are treated to a wonderful, heartfelt, humorous and gut wrenching drama about family, generational trauma and memory. I will not spill the beans on the multiple reveals in the show, but I must assure you that this show is a hit. Drop everything and go now; the limited run closes on December 13, 2022.

Roy Vongtama as Visarut and David Huynh as Max

It is two years after Hurricane Katrina. A middle-aged black couple, Delia (Tamika Simpkin) and Felix (Jasper Howard), in search of a safe haven from their devastated home, move into new digs that Delia believes is haunted. Suspecting the ghost to be of Thai descent, she hires a Thai-American paranormal investigation agency to find out the truth.

David Huynh as Max and Roy Vongtama as Visarut

A mixture of Agent Scully from X-Files and a used car salesman, Max (David Huynh) bites off more than he can chew when he hustles the distressed Delia into purchasing the complete ghost investigation package. The problem? Max does not believe in hauntings, and furthermore doubts his brother Visarut’s (Roy Vongtama) claim to have retained his childhood power of seeing spirits. The play raises the temperature when Felix tells Max and Visarut that the investigation is pivotal in determining the mental health of his wife. The hustle is now serious business.

Jasper Howard as Felix

Mental health, sadness, trauma and suicide are pivotal plot points and common ties to all the characters. Ms. Simpkin and Mr. Howard as the New Orleans ex-pats are simply delightful — their chemistry is loving and lived-in, intimately connecting us to their character’s joy and fears. The dynamics between Mr. Huynh and Mr. Vongtama’s are so vivid that their cross-immigration and generational difference takes me back to my own childhood. It is clear that the entire cast deeply cares for the crafting and presentation of their characters.

David Huynh as Max and Emily Kuroda as Tasanee

However, it is Emily Kuroda (Gilmore Girls, Tiger Style!) who is a golden jewel in this production. Her character, Tasanee, the matriarch of the family, felt like the Asian mother that I and my fellow Asian-American community know so well. Her delivery and timing are superbly comedic while cutting deep into the heart. The line ‘”You do not need to come from disaster to feel broken” hits particularly deep. I must also raise a glass to Ratana’s spooky and delightful performance as the specter.

Jasper Howard as Felix and Tamika Simpkins as Delia

Close family death, destruction, melancholy and horror are the hallmarks of Prince Gomolivilas‘s script, directed with empathy by Jeff Liu. Their insights of how Thai culture makes sense of the human condition is remarkable. The conversations feel genuine as the chemistry between actors is flowing with love, respect and gratitude. This supportive environment is mandatory for such challenging topics. Thus we can get teary-eyed amid the terror.

David Huynh as Max and Roy Vongtama as Visarut

A horror show cannot happen without stage magic. Ian O’Connor‘s illusions, John Iacovelli‘s sets, Brian Gale’s lights and Michael O’Hara‘s props work beautifully together. Da Xu’s sound is well-crafted for both the horror and the comedy. I am not sure if this is an intentional effect, but the audible fogger seems to be employed as a dramaturgical tool that creates an ominous air. Stage Manager Brandon Hong Cheng aids with tightly called cues. And props to Hyun Sook Kim for the spirit costuming that is at once functional and creepy.

photos by Jenny Graham

The Brothers Paranormal
East West Players
David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso Street
ends on December 11, 2022
for tickets, call 213.625.7000 or visit East West Players

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