The Billie Holiday Theatre’s “Brothers From the Bottom” Review

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If you are not familiar with actor Wendell Pierce then you’ve been living under a rock. Known best as Detective Bunk Moreland on HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire, Wendell is also known for his role in the HBO series Treme (also written by The Wire’s David Simon), about post-Katrina New Orleans, Pierce’s home town. Pierce can also be seen in Showtimes’ Ray Donovan, USA’s Suits, the new CBS comedy The Odd Couple, Spike Lee’s award winning documentary When the Levees Broke (HBO), just to name a few things occupying this very busy actor’s time.

How this black Beacon of Hollywood came to star in this engaging, well-written play called Brothers From the Bottom, written and directed by The Billie Holiday Theatre’s Jackie Alexander, demonstrates Pierce’s stamina and versatility. How Pierce, with a resume a mile long, could find time to bring his talents to a hole in the wall theatre (The Brooklyn Music School Playhouse while the home of the Billie Holiday Theatre is being renovated.) is baffling. But, after viewing this well-scripted play, it’s easier to understand Pierce’s involvement.

Brothers From the Bottom is a witty and stimulating play set in New Orleans post-Katrina. Brothers From the Bottom is lively, yet profound, giving its audience serious insight into the psyche of Black New Orleans’ residents post-Hurricane Katrina. The story pits those residents who remained there after the devastation of the hurricane against those who left. Pierce plays Chris, the brother who stayed. His brother Trey, played by seasoned theatre actor Wendell Franklin, is the doubtfully successful New York lawyer who vowed never to return but of course does.

Accompanying the two Wendells is Kevin Mambo—known for his incredible performance in Fela! —who plays Chris’ sidekick Lou. Mambo nearly walks away with the play with his humorous antics, doo-rag and “hip” brotherhood gestures. Thaddeus Daniels plays James, a real estate investor and antagonist to Chris and Lou. Toccarra Cash (Malika) gives a strong performance as Chris’ wife and Megan Robinson (Lindsey) plays Trey’s soft spoken, biracial wife.

If, like me, you are somewhat detached from the goings on in New Orleans post-Katrina, you’ll come away learning a thing or two about the damage to families and relationships and the strength of caring communities and individuals. Brother teaches loyalty and what it takes to repair families when disaster strikes.

Director and playwright Jackie Alexander revealed that the play now travels south to New Orleans before hopefully returning to New York for a possible stint on Broadway. I’m sure audiences in the Big Easy will love this poignant, thought-provoking but clever reflection of New Orleans life. It would be wonderful if Brothers From the Bottom makes it to the Great White Way. Broadway could use some color of this magnitude.

—Odehyah Gough-Israel

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