Mu Performing Arts presents the world premiere of “Middle Brother,” a new play about the experience of a Korean adoptee trying to reconcile his Midwest upbringing with his Korean roots.
Critics found the play ambitious and funny, but not really cohesive.
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.
“Middle Brother” isn’t a long piece (100 minutes), but at times it seems padded with unnecessary material that wanders off-track, such as comic interludes with two KAL flight attendants. The plotline of Billy’s journey is mirrored throughout by an ancient tale of two brothers during the Joseon Dynasty. It’s an interesting layer that adds depth, as well as visual drama, to Billy’s dilemma, but the connections between the two stories are sometimes tenuous.
As “Middle Brother” began, I found myself congratulating it on making sparing use of direct address of the audience, a tactic that is employed too often in contemporary plays. But this may be a play that would benefit from more of it because it would afford us more of Sharp’s point of view. He’s a witty and perhaps too-modest performer, and “Middle Brother” could use more of him.
Middle Brother is a play I desperately wanted to like. Its heart is huge, and Sharp has poured plenty of himself into the work. If it could stay out of its own way, Middle Brother has the potential to not only illuminate a piece of world and personal history, but provide plenty of humor and emotional heft as well.
“Middle Brother” runs through Sept. 28 at the Southern Theater. Have you seen it? What did you think?