Rating: 4/5 stars
The UC Follies’ ended their 2018 season with the outstanding production, Les Frères (The Brothers). The play was met with resounding cheers and a standing ovation during the opening night on a snowy November Thursday.
Les Frères is a dramatic and cultural story that integrates loss and personal obstacles, but one that follows a Haitian-American family in New York and is performed in English. Written by Sandra A. Daley Sharif, directed by Abigail Whitney, and inspired by Lorainne Hansberry’s Les Blancs, it depicts the struggles of a family and country against the effects of colonialism.
“This play has provided me with the chance to stage a story that mirrors scenes in my life. Scenes that I know so intimately growing up as part of the Haitian diaspora,” Whitney wrote in her director’s note.
The show’s focus is on three brothers who are forced to confront each other after spending years apart. Upon being reunited with each other when their father becomes ill, Christophe (Kato Alexander), Jean Caleb (Kwaku Adu-Poku), and Fedji (David Delisca) must navigate the aftermath of their father’s death, recall their mother’s earlier suicide, and face the tensions between the three of them.
The brothers are of Haitian descent and grew up together in Harlem, New York. However, they have all taken very different paths in life: Christophe is a scholar who now studies at Harvard University and has met Barack Obama, Jean Caleb has his own family and is out saving the world as a doctor, and Fedji is a Jehovah’s Witness who lives nearby in Brooklyn.
Despite the challenges of a small cast size, the actors were able to carry the show with constant dialogue and quick-witted exchanges to keep the audience interested. Rob Candy gave a compelling performance in his role as Mr. Brent Ewens, a family friend, adding energetic and compelling conversations to the poignant storyline.
Alexander, Adu-Poku, and Delisca deliver their lines with the perfect amount of emotion which allows the audience to effectively empathise the pain and trauma of the young men. This is particularly apparent during the scene when the three brothers argue among themselves directly following their father’s death.
Traditional music connected Haitian culture and the sombre mood of the show. especially during intense scenes and discussions Instruments, like a bongo drum and rain stick, were played by Mosa McNeilly to create matching sound effects.
The set design is conventional, detailing the kitchen and living areas of the brothers’ childhood apartment. It is complete with a fully stocked fridge, bookshelves, and a table filled with Christophe’s endless awards and trophies.
While the various scenes of loss are not easy to watch, rare moments of humour and the closeness of family offer some respite. The production is impressive in its adaptation of the original play, enhancing minor moments while keeping the key elements and true message of the story intact.
As a whole, the show succeeded in bringing the story and its significance to life through the drama of the scenes and strong actors onstage. The culture and heritage of Haiti was well represented and accessible for such a diverse Toronto audience.