O brother, where art thou?
Did you ever wonder, “What if I had just done one thing differently today?” What if you had turned left instead of right or worn red instead of blue? Would that change anything? Do we determine our own fate, or is it planned for us?
This fascinating idea—that the most arbitrary decisions might have profound effects on the present—is the basis for Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, one of the most successful musicals of all time. In the almost 25 years since it was written, the show has run nonstop in London’s Phoenix Theatre, drawing a cult following.
Director Tony DeGeiso was certainly haunted by it. “For a long time, I couldn’t even talk about it without getting choked up,” he says. DeGeiso has spent more than seven years carefully planning a Northern Nevada production, and this November, Proscenium Players will bring it to the Brewery Arts Center’s performance hall stage.
The story opens on Mrs. Johnstone (Karen Chandler), a poor, uneducated, pregnant English woman with seven children who gives birth to fraternal twin boys, Mickey and Eddie. Deserted by her husband, she is left to cope with her oversized brood alone. Her wealthy employer, Mrs. Lyons (Lisa Bommarito), can’t have children but desperately wants one. She persuades the desperate Mrs. Johnstone to give her one of her twins, Eddie.
Knowing that Mrs. Johnstone is highly superstitious, Mrs. Lyons then concocts a superstition that if either one of twins separated at birth ever learns he is part of a pair, both will die immediately. To prevent this terrible fate, Mrs. Johnstone says goodbye to Eddie forever and takes Mickey and her family far away.
As fate would have it, it’s not that easy to keep the two boys apart, as we then see through a series of vignettes. Mickey (Skylar Nance) and Eddie (Colin Coate) meet and become fast friends at age 7, calling themselves “blood brothers.” Freaked out that the boys have met, Mrs. Lyons convinces her husband (Norman Subotky) that the family must relocate immediately.
Meanwhile, the Johnstones are forced to relocate as well—coincidentally, to the same place as the Lyons. So at age 14, the boys once again cross paths. Mickey introduces Eddie to his sweetheart Linda (Giana DeGeiso), who eventually becomes an integral force in the twins’ futures, and the three become pals.
By their mid-20s, Eddie’s privileged life has afforded him wonderful opportunities, while Mickey’s hard life is a constant struggle. As the twins’ shocking fate unfolds, the play’s narrator (Jeff Bentley) leaves the audience questioning: Would things have been different if Mrs. Johnstone had given a different twin away?
As Russell has described, one of the show’s now-famous melodies popped into his head one day while he was taking a walk. The melody suggested certain words, which went on to form this story. Thus, the story must be told through its music, which director DeGeiso describes as “simple and pure.” These songs include such titles as “Tell Me It’s Not True” and “Marilyn Monroe.”
“Music communicates emotions in a way that you can’t with a straight play,” explains DeGeiso. “This music really gives amazing depth to this story.”
The story is clearly moving. Even now, as much as DeGeiso tries not to, he chokes up as he recounts the plot. “It’s an experience that people won’t come across in this area again,” he says. “Anyone who sees it will love it and will leave changed.”