The Love of Brothers plays host to a slew of harrowing subjects in its depiction of complicated fraternity: AIDS, abuse, incest. But perhaps the most jarring thing about this important show is just how many people seem to be missing out on it. Brothers, directed by Andreas Robertz and written by Mario Golden, plays the downstairs theatre of the Theater for the New City, a venue known for championing challenging original works. In that respect, this two-character piece is well-suited for TNC. So why were there only four people at the performance I attended?
I imagine one major reason is the show’s dark subject matter. Rogelio (Mauricio Leyton) and Sergio (Golden) are brothers bonded by the obstacles which they have overcome. Both brothers are gay and share an apartment in San Francisco, but they were born in Mexico City to privileged parents who have since passed away. All was not well, however. Sergio, an aspiring writer, suffered abuse as a child.
Rogelio, meanwhile, suffers both emotionally and physically. Not only has he achieved greater success as an artist (he is a well-received painter), but he also feels guilt for not having prevented his younger brother’s abuse. More immediately, though, is Rogelio’s health. He has AIDS and his body is breaking down as a result of cryptococcal meningitis. He wants to make amends to Sergio for failing to protect him in their youth before he dies.
And so Rogelio announces to Sergio that the end is near. He vows to both stop painting and stop taking his medication, thereby opting to begin the end of his life. This is a devastating declaration, and Leyton delivers it with the appropriate amount of surrender, lacking in self-pity or despair. Golden’s viewpoint is that Rogelio is making an important decision, rather than merely giving up.
Sergio’s reaction is likely to polarize audience members, though. He goes to great lengths in his desperate attempt to convince his brother to choose life. As Brothers continues, Rogelio and Sergio use both art and conversation as a means to excavate the demons of their shared childhood – demons that both pull them together and threaten to tear them apart. To Golden’s credit, Sergio’s choices seem firmly rooted in character, keeping his plot from feeling merely sensational.
This is not unfamiliar terrain. While the motivating factors are different, Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer-winning ’night, Mother addresses similar themes. Golden’s play does not quite hit the same grace notes. Brothers is a more protracted play. Some of the dialogue makes scenes feel both redundant and padded. However, Robertz compensates for what the play lacks in poetry with a staging that packs plenty of power.
Both actors deliver fierce, committed performances. Leyton’s work is one of carefully measured dignity and gravitas, while Golden’s work is more effusive; he's a little boy lost. As the characters retreat increasingly from society into each other, the play requires both actors to bare their hearts and souls, which they do to impressive effect. I imagine by show’s end, the two are exhausted. There is a third, nonhuman character to the show. Yanko Bakulic's set is effective as well. The brothers' nicely decorated apartment ultimately serves as a prison for the two of them, hermetically sealing the two of them from the rest of the world.
Robertz’ production is bold and, yes, geared for adult audiences. It isn’t a show for everybody. But four seats filled in the audience? These Brothers deserve more love than that.