Have you ever experienced a play that not only entertained you, but also left you feeling educated and motivated? I saw a play over the weekend that did just that. “Brothers From the Bottom” is a captivatingly written and directed play by Jackie Alexander.
Alexander takes the time to reveal a very important issue in the Black communities across the country: gentrification. In this story, gentrification happens to the residents of a New Orleans neighborhood who return a few years after Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, it isn’t just surviving in their home and trying to recapture a sense of normalcy that they have to contend with. Outside developers want to buy up all the homes, tear them down and build a hospital and condos—condos the current residents will not be able to afford to live in, forever changing the face of the neighborhood.
In this play, the people trying to orchestrate this change are not only Black, but also grew up in the neighborhood and are working with the developers. Alexander blatantly states that Blacks will sell their own people out. To show the depth of the betrayal, his main characters are two brothers—Chris and Trey—who are on opposite sides when it comes to this issue. Chris is against it and a leader and supporter of the neighborhood staying intact, whereas Trey is working with the developers to “revitalize” the neighborhood. Alexander allows the audience to clearly see both sides of the argument. This play manages to captivate and mesmerize, and oftentimes has the audience rolling with laughter as Alexander effortlessly mixes high-powered emotional scenes with sudden humor.
The cast is outstanding and stars Wendell Pierce as Chris. Pierce handles the role while demonstrating a great passion for the subject—not surprising because he is from New Orleans. His acting is flawless. Chris is the character with the conscience, the neighborhood champion, and Pierce does it so well. He also has a great relationship with Joccarra Cash, who plays his wife, Malika. Their chemistry onstage is adorable to watch.
Cash consistently hits the stage with a fiery performance. Kevin Mambo is outstandingly hilarious as the comedic relief Lou, a childhood friend and a neighbor who takes a lot of liberties in Chris and Malika’s house. Wendell Franklin is passionate as Trey. He plays the character with an air of desperation, and eventually the audience and Trey’s family learn why. Megan Robinson is charming as Lindsey, Trey’s interracial wife. Thaddeus Daniels gives a good performance as James, a developer representative.
To the loyal Billie Holiday Theatre fans who are accustomed to viewing their family friendly, always-relevant works at Restoration Plaza, please note they are not currently at that venue. The theater is being renovated so, for two years, the Billie Holiday Theatre—still with Executive Director Marjorie Moon and Artistic Director Jackie Alexander—will be in residence at the Brooklyn Music School Playhouse, located at 126 St. Felix St., across from the Atlantic Terminal. Although they are in a different venue, the quality of the production has not diminished. Technically, the play also remains on point with a set by Felix E. Cochren and Patrice Andrew Davidson, costumes by Helen L. Simmons-Collen and stage management by AVAN.
I was on hand for the opening night, so were actors David Alan Grier, Lillias White, Jerome Preston Bates and Ebony Jo-Ann, to name a few. Said Jo-Ann, “I loved it. It’s the first theater piece I’ve seen in a while that I enjoyed. It’s a beautiful piece, well crafted, and the acting was superb. The story was told with humor. It’s a genocide that going on all over the country. This is the perfect time to tell the story. This goes out and people stay asleep—they act like they don’t know what’s going on. This piece needs to be on Broadway, to go out to a mass white audience.”
This play will only run through March 29. Make plans to see this wonderful, vital piece of theater. General admission is $30. Tickets for senior and students with ID are $20. For tickets, call 718-636-0918 or go to www.thebillieholiday.org.