Your brother. Remember?
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
January 5, 2011
Xian Chow: This is stone city. Where many ancient warriors come. While you train here, listen!
Kurt Sloane: Listen to what?
Xian Chow: Just listen. With your mind, your heart, your whole being. You must learn to be faster than any punch or kick...that way, won’t get hit.
Pop culture simplifies our experiences. Take the above quote from Kickboxer, the 1989 action flick starring starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme plays Kurt Sloane, a man whose brother is paralyzed during a kickboxing match in Thailand. Kurt vows revenge on the opponent and with the help of kickboxing guru Xian Chow, he gets it. The exchange takes place at the starts of his training and lays out an impossible challenge. It resonates because it simplifies the essence of Sloane’s challenge—learning to avoid a hit IS the best way to win a fight—and contrasts it with the impossibility of the task—cans of whoop-ass are de rigueur in Van Damme pictures. Satisfaction comes from watching the hero take these unavoidable hits and ultimately emerge victorious.
While dangerous to take too seriously, there is an element of truth to such simplifications and it to these elements to which Zachary Oberzan’s Your brother. Remember? pays particular and loving attention
The premise at the center of this weird and wonderful play, now playing at Dixon Place as part of The Public’s Under the Radar Festival, is extremely clever and philosophically interesting. While growing up in Maine, Oberzan and his brother Gator, with the help of their sister Jenny, filmed parodies of both Kickboxer and the graphically violent cult film, Faces of Death. Twenty years later they returned to the scene of the crime to re-film the parodies, shot by shot, using the same sets, props, costumes, and dialogue. Oberzan screens both the originals and reproductions side-by-side, sometimes cutting between the two, and adds bloopers and documentary footage of his siblings describing their experiences and reflections on the re-shoots.
Throughout the screenings, Oberzan sits center stage, narrating seemingly random reflections—sometimes philosophical, sometimes anecdotal—in various accents. I use “seemingly” because his voices, gestures, and stories have their sources and one of the great pleasures of the production comes from discovering their roots and connecting them to the entirety of the piece. He sings and plays guitar, too, acting as the emcee for this metaphysical jigsaw puzzle.
What’s best about Your brother. Remember? are the unseen elements: the struggle, the folly, and the work each sibling—the brothers remain the focus of the piece but I found their sister’s role equally important—put into the intervening years. Taut, muscular bodies give way to flesh and solidity. Their bodies illustrate the changes time has wrought.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his presentation of Gator. Oberzan makes Gator the center of these changes, using his jail stints and drug addiction as source material around which the piece revolves. Rather than trying to dig into the roots of Gator’s addiction, they confront these experiences with humour and humility. In addition to the Kickboxer/Faces of Death scenes, they create music videos to song parodies: “Overdosed Again!” sung to the tune of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” describes a—surprise!—overdose; an argument at Denny’s that lands Gator in jail is given the epic treatment in a song based on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.”
They’re hilarious: witty ditties filmed with playful enthusiasm. And it would be easy to view them as mere YouTube clips if Oberzan didn’t knock us out with a clip of Gator at a moment of extreme vulnerability. Standing in a kitchen, Gator speaks directly into the camera. You can see the fatigue and the struggle plainly etched in his face. He explains the process: the juggling of medications, the difficulty managing sensations and then announces he needs help. As he’s leaving the kitchen, he encounters a woman who holds him. Is it his mother, his girlfriend, his sister? Who knows and frankly, who cares. This brief glimpse into Gator’s struggle lends weight to the ensuing comedy.
The result seems to me a love letter to the passage of time and the siblings’ experiences. The siblings have such respect for one another. They admit to not always getting along, not always treating each other respectfully. But they confess admiration for one another and acknowledge the influence they’ve had on one another’s lives. It’s an amazing piece of theatre: full of compelling images and straightforward moments. But mostly, it is a recognition of time passed and the everlasting struggles and joys in learning to avoid and deal with punches. I can think of no higher praise than that: Xian Chow would be proud.