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Blood Brothers: an epiphany

by Foxy Moxy

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Having moved to the Triad from a larger metropolitan area a few years ago, I sometimes feel homesick for the cultural opportunities a big city can offer. It doesn’t help that I remain on e-mail lists from those days, so I’m often treated to reminders of arts events I can no longer attend. Before the blues set in properly though, I always manage to find something in the Triad that renews my faith in the area’s artistic soul and in the talented people who are committed to breathing life into the scene.

One such cultural epiphany occurred for me at the opening performance of Blood Brothers, at Greensboro’s Open Space Caf’ and Theatre. As a first-time audience member at Open Space, I found the theatre a fitting showcase for the darktinged musical. The venue afforded both the intimacy that allowed you to connect with the characters and the space for vocalists to really roll out the emotion of their songs. If the word “musical” makes you think of fluff, you should check that notion at the door. Blood Brothers is a gripping tale of the struggles and joys in of the life of a woman and her children, laced with superstition, deceit and, ultimately, fratricide. The phenomenal Pauline Cobrda, in a tour de force as Mrs. Johnstone, deftly allows you to view the world through her eyes, evoking tenderness for her plight. Compelled by poverty to separate her twin sons at birth so she can feed the rest of her family, she gives one away to be raised in better circumstances by her childless employer.

The women make a pact that neither twin will ever learn the truth. Wanda Steele does a marvelously scary job of coming unhinged over the course of the show as the deceptive wife and employer. Fearful that the baby will bond with his real mother, she fires Johnstone, leaving her jobless to fend for her oversized brood. We jump ahead seven years, as the rag-tag twin and his silver-spoon counterpart meet one another outside playing, and become fast friends and “blood brothers.”

When the adoptive mother figures out what’s going on, she entreats her husband to move them to the countryside, where their son can mix with his “own” kind, separating the boys once again. Years pass and fortune at last smiles on the Johnstones, affording them the opportunity to escape the life they’ve known (and the reputation some of the unruly children have earned) to swap for a fresh start in the country. This allows a chance reunion for teenagers Mickey, the hard-luck twin, and Eddie, the one given every advantage, who are thrilled to be mates once again. Brotherly love does not transcend every obstacle however, and the twins are treated to a coaster ride of the swirling forces of the circumstances of parental deception in their lives as they grow to maturity. Stephen A. Hale as Mickey is incredibly winning as the less-fortunate twin, even when things go very wrong for him. Jim Weaver, playing Eddie, grows up into a remarkably unpretentious soul, considering the treacherous mother who raised him. Both actors do a marvelous job imbuing the audience with empathy for the twins. They both, along with a number of the ensemble, also manage to smoothly morph onstage from sevenyear-olds into adults! The entire cast carries the show’s many numbers along with strong, clear voices, each terrific in their own right. Jean Burr was quite skillful in the role of Linda, a love interest for both boys and the catalyst of their undoing. I also enjoyed Macon Shirley, who lent a handsomely dark sense of foreboding as the narrator. Shirley reminds both the characters and audience throughout the show that when you make deals with the devil, there’s ultimately hell to pay. Kudos to the Open Space Caf’ and Theatre for pulling off this ambitious production. It’s the dedication to the arts evident from the people it takes to bring forth a show like this that deepens my faith in quality of cultural offerings here in the Triad.

To comment on this story e-mail Madelyn Greco at Moxy@foxymoxy.com

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