History was made Friday at the grand opening of Fonseca Theatre Company‘s new home in the Basile Building at 2508 W. Michigan Street, located in the Haughville neighborhood on Indy’s West Side. Less than a year and a half following his departure from Phoenix Theatre, intrepid visionary Bryan Fonseca has founded yet another dynamic arts entity. This one promises to provide people of color and members of other minority groups a platform where their voices can be heard and a seat at the table where the decisions are usually made by those who assert privilege.
Adding to the high excitement of the evening was the opening of FTC’s first production in its new space, “The Brothers Paranormal,” directed by Fonseca. Making the proceedings even more special was the attendance of Prince Gomolvilas, the author of the play who happens to have been born in Indy. Whether intentional or not, the drama’s subject matter couldn’t be more appropriate for the Halloween season.
Gomolvilas’s script is part family drama and part scary ghost story. Two Thai-American brothers, Max (Sean Qiu) and Visarut (Ian Cruz), are self-proclaimed paranormal investigators and summoned to the apartment of an African-American woman Delia (Dena Toler), who says her home is haunted by a Thai woman. As the brothers investigate the home, they learn from the woman’s husband Felix (Ansley Valentine) that there is a good chance things might not be as they seem, with mental illness plaguing his wife’s family. Is what Delia is seeing real or only in her imagination? The brothers are determined to get answers. During this examination, the family life of the brothers and their mother Tasanee (Diane Tsao) is revealed as the audience learns there is more to them than what appears, with the ghosts from their past still impacting their present. Touching on the dual topics of the supernatural world and mental health, the play will have you questioning what is real and what isn’t until its conclusion.
The play makes for an entertaining experience, but one that will also resonate with anyone who has experienced grief at losing a loved one. It also deals with loss in general, including that of the couple, haunted by a spirit, who happen to be survivors of Hurricane Katrina and forced to relocate. Other themes explored are immigration and cultural differences.
In addition to giving a voice to people of color, FTC also seeks to cast minority actors in its productions. In the case of this show, it was tremendously refreshing to see Asians playing roles written for them, no less, by an Asian playwright. In regards to the acting in this production, all cast members turn in solid performances, but the two who stood out were veterans Tsao as the mother, whose immigration to the U.S. from Thailand has come at a huge cost and Valentine, the cast’s sole Equity actor, who excelled in his characterization of the patient, loving husband who is a stable rock for his troubled wife. Showing promise and a strong stage presence was newcomer Sean Qiu as Max, the younger son.
Obviously, the production was an ideal opportunity to show off the facility’s technical bells and whistles and its ideal size. Featuring a deep stage, the theatre’s sound and lighting systems are superb and it 70-seat house has an intimacy that sets it apart from other venues in town, providing audiences with a stronger connection with the actors.
Fonseca, who is a master at surrounding himself with the best creatives for his productions, has assembled a team that includes scenic designer Bernie Killian, sound designer Tim Brickley, costumer Laurie Silver, and Ben Dobler, who also assisted. The result is a production that effectively showcases FTC’s new home and portends what is possible for future storytelling. Keep an eye out for some special effects that make quite an impression. It was a risky to attempt them, but they came off with flying colors, and some were, in fact, downright chilling.
Again, “The Brothers Paranormal” is the perfect concoction to whet your taste buds for ghosts and goblins at Halloween and at the same time, it explores serious issues in a story that is often tinged with gentle humor. You come away feeling touched by its humanity. “The Brothers Paranormal” continues through Nov. 10.
For tickets and information visit fonsecatheatre.org.