Brothers Brawl, Everyone Bawls

I do not have a great deal to say about Barefoot Theater Company's Teeth of the Sons , written by Joseph Sousa and performed at the Cherry Lane Theater, mainly because it does not have a great deal to offer. By cramming a series of melodramatic tropes into the storyline and presenting these tropes relatively solidly, it held my attention for its duration, but no more than an episode of General Hospital might. The biggest difference here is that General Hospital knows what it is and where it stands in pop culture today. Teeth of the Sons is mid-grade melodrama posing as high art, taking itself far too seriously to be stomached. The play begins with a reunion between estranged brothers Sam (steadily performed by Will Allen), who has been incommunicado for years, and Jacob, (played by Sousa) a mild-mannered Hasidic scholar. Sam has returned to their hometown, Brooklyn, because his girlfriend, Maddy, (Casandera M.J. Lollar) is pregnant, her family has kicked her out, and the two need a place to stay.

This lays the groundwork for a plethora of arguments between Jacob and Sam, Sam and Maddy, Maddy and Jacob, even Jacob and his long-time ex girlfriend Evelyn, who shows up as a bangled, beaded, long-skirted deus-ex machina near the play’s end. Arguments center on religious doctrine, familial duties, morality, and abortion. One would think that so much arguing would produce interesting insights into these subjects: one would be wrong. Little is said that hasn't been heard on an after school special. When characters aren't arguing, they are calming themselves down, or crying, or trying not to cry, on the phone to their estranged parents who come across as heartless, unfeeling, terrible people.

It is clear that Sousa and director Nicole Haron spent much more time thinking about plot than character development, which is problematic in a one-room play with three main characters. Inconsistencies abound: for example, we are supposed to believe that Jacob once was a carbon-copy of his brother, an irresponsible, care-free partier with no regard for anyone but himself. But Sousa's Jacob is so mild-mannered, so reserved and sweet that it's impossible to believe this is true.

At one point, Sam gets Jacob to take a shot of whiskey with him, and as Jacob does so, he cringes and grimaces like a boy who's never tasted it before. This is comical, but it makes no sense if he was once as big a drinker as Sam. Sam and Jacob are completely different in every way, from the way they carry themselves to speech patterns to complexion. There is nothing to indicate that they are brothers, that they share an upbringing and a past.

Near the end of the play, Jacob's high school girlfriend, Evelyn, shows up, and through an impassioned speech, Evelyn reveals to the audience that Jacob was not the nicest of guys at sixteen: he dumped her and then turned her away when she came sobbing at his doorstep. Evelyn tears into Jacob, and Jacob takes full blame for his former self. He confesses to taking cold showers to repent his behavior to her. No one ever brings up the fact that Jacob and Evelyn were kids when they dated, and likely made major mistakes due in large part to their immaturity. It’s an odd omission that suggests none of these characters (or the playwright) have gained much perspective over time.

The technical elements do not add much shine to this dull script. The set is realistically rendered, and would have worked fine if the director and designers hadn’t felt the need to emphasize the fact. There are many practical lights on the set. I have never seen lights turned on and off so often and so unnecessarily in one play before. Perhaps director Nicole Haran was trying to break some kind of record. I can see no other reason for making such a choice.

In conclusion, I would not recommend this play to most. Perhaps if you are particularly interested in Hasidic Judaism, the Holocaust, abortion, and soap operas, and there's nothing good on TV, and you live in the West Village already, and aren't interested in any movies playing...maybe then, you might consider Teeth of the Sons, but otherwise, I'd say pass.

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