Theatre Synesthesia's The Brutes
Casey Wimpee's original drama is about a Civil War-era family, but it's deeply relevant to our own fractured time
Reviewed by T. Lynn Mikeska, Fri., Dec. 15, 2017
I don't know if you've noticed the political climate as of late, but the American cultural identity has become somewhat divided. We are currently in the middle of a national argument in this country over what exactly constitutes American values, and tempers are running high – to the point that civility is being chucked right out the window. From online spats to political posturing, it seems that name calling and just plain ugliness (all in under 160 characters, of course) are the new colloquial-speak in this modern age. Some of us have even seen this unrest leech into our own families, sparking massive fights that leave everyone at Thanksgiving dinner fuming over their pumpkin pie.
In the world premiere of Casey Wimpee's The Brutes (directed by Devin Finn), Theatre Synesthesia explores the Booths, a famous family of actors torn apart by politics during a similarly divisive time in our nation's history. The story opens with four Confederate Brutes (played by Brittany Flurry, Daniel McGowan, Harrison Anderson, and Jack Rodgers) posted up, singing and waiting for instructions from their contact. Meanwhile, the Booth family begins rehearsals for Julius Caesar. As opening night draws near, each of the Booths finds her/himself enmeshed in their own private struggle. Asia Booth, a not-so-shy stage siren played by Marci Blackwell, is asking herself the question, to cheat or not to cheat with strange bedfellow Seymour (David Boss) – a leading man who is as smooth as he is soused. For Edwin Booth (Keith Adam Paxton), the problem has appeared in a most questionable shape: the ghost of his father (an actor's actor, played by a booze-swilling, bile-spewing Judd Farris), who mercilessly forces him to recite Hamlet's lines to never-ending criticism. Junior's (Jason Graf) feeling the pressure to act well his part – it's his first time performing with the fam, and he has a lofty legacy to uphold. Then there's John Wilkes (Nicholas Kier), who is trying to decide how best to be a foe to tyrants and his country's friend. As the Civil War rages in the background, another smaller war is ignited at the Booths' Thanksgiving table, one which will have lasting consequences not only on a family's name, but on a nation cleft in twain by ideology and demagoguery.
Wimpee's script is an original one for sure. From beginning to end, The Brutes is a delightful exercise in linguistic anachronism ranging from ye olde Civil War-speak to Shakespeare to modern-day expletives, and no matter what the era, the well-oiled cast keeps the speech trippingly on their tongues. Another thing to appreciate about The Brutes is its willingness to take some bold risks across the board – including a moment when some of the actors yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. Some of these risks provide a bigger payoff than others, but overall, The Brutes is a strong work that is deeply relevant to the current political rumblings in these United States. This historical fiction spiked with Shakespeare and garnished with musical interludes contains some timeless truths in its time-traveling language, and it is a cautionary tale that can be appreciated by all Americans, blue or gray.
The BrutesThe Back Pack, 2400 E. Cesar Chavez
Through Dec. 16
Running time: 1 hr., 15 min.