Edgy, experimental, and often uncomfortable, Annexus Theatre’s production of Hello|Brother is the quintessential Fringe experience. Written and directed by Solomon HaileSelassie, the companion plays plunge into questions of solitude and control. In Hello the lights come up on Celine (Kate V. Lawrence), clearly upset, traveling up and down in an elevator. Soon Delvin (Matt Meyers), a blind man, gets in. As we wait for Celine to pick a floor to land on it becomes clear she is trapped by her indecision. In Brother Michael (Jonathan Miot) is literally trapped in a 12X8 room, marked out with tape on the bare stage floor. In the room on a table lies Astro (Matt Myers), wearing a spaceman suit and lying motionless. As the days tick by Michael scrambles to maintain his sense of self, space, and time despite the solitude.
In Hello Meyers gives a lively performance as Delvin and Lawrence captures the desolation of Celine. Delvin’s blindness and Celine’s constant preoccupation with her own problems create technical challenges for the actors, and sometimes the connection between the characters gets lost as a result. As is often the case in early Fringe performances with limited tech time, the actors and technical elements are still getting in sync, so the pace is jerky and sometimes slow.
Brother, without the hindrance of extra bells and whistles, moves along at a swifter pace. Miot has a nice presence as Michael, and his ability to use humor between the more desperate moments helps offset the discomfort of the subject matter.
HaileSelassie attacks the senses of his actors and audience with the intermittent, torture style, blaring of music. Because the audience shares in Michael’s discomfort, it begins to feel as if Michael isn’t the only one trapped in a tiny room. Myers comes back to portray Astro with impressive stillness. Perhaps among the most moving and interesting moments of the production is the closing scene when Astro suddenly comes to life. Underscored by the original music by Wax Fang, these last interactions leave the audience with a lot to mull over once the lights come back up.
HaileSelassie’s dialogue is often clever. His writing intentionally leans towards vagueness, which gives the audience a lot power to fill in the blanks, but can also be a hindrance for a lengthier production. At times it would be nice as an audience member to have something more concrete to hang onto while delving into the surreal worlds that HaileSelassie creates. At times as an audience member you may get lost, but the themes in Hello|Brother are consistent and HaileSelassie always knows where he is going.
Once again Annexus Theatre Company presents a show that is challenging, a little weird, and very human. Grab a friend and hit the Fringe Bar afterword, this one provides plenty of fuel for debate and conversation.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Hello|Brother plays through Saturday, July 23, 2016 at Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre – Florida Ave NE and 8th St NE, Washington, DC 20002. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.