Your brother. Remember? – Curatorial Statement
December 22, 2011
By Sherrie Johnson, PuSh Festival Senior Curator
It was a blustery New York evening as I trudged along Lafayette toward Dixon Place, New York City’s Laboratory for Performance. I was in New York for the annual Under the Radar Festival. UTR Festival Artistic Director, Mark Russell, has kindly invited me to N.Y. the past few years to produce and host the pitch sessions as part of the Symposium activities. Just as I have been involved with PuSh since the inception, the same holds true for Under the Radar. Every year, for the past eight years, I always look forward to my annual pilgrimage to New York and Vancouver to engage with artists, colleagues, peers and audiences in the communal environment of shared space.
On this particular evening I was heading to see Zachary Oberzan’s Your brother. Remember? I was already taken by Zachary the first time I saw him perform with the New York based company Nature Theatre of Oklahoma (Poetics: a ballet brut, PuSh 2010). I took my seat in the front row and I could feel my body relax as I settled into this warm and familiar environment: the theatre. On this night four brave souls sat in the front – one was my dear friend, the other two were strangers to me, the rest of the audience sat behind the front row.
Your brother. Remember? is the most sincere and heartfelt 60 minutes of solo storytelling I’ve come across in the theatre. Two brothers, Zachary and Gator, grow up in a loving family in rural Maine. As a way to pass the time the brothers, along with their sidekick sister Jenny, parody Hollywood films by remaking them to precision in the comfort of their own home – costumes, props, locations and all. A favorite was Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer (the films’ premise is that the main character fights to avenge his brother who has been paralyzed by a Thai kickboxing champion). As the children grow up they grow apart. Zachary goes on to become a well-known performer, Gator spirals into an abyss of drug addiction and is sent to prison. As an attempt to stay connected, Gator writes his brother letters from prison. As time passes, Zachary reaches out to connect with his wayward brother using the letters as a starting point for dialogue. As a way to rebuild their relationship, they go back to the house in Maine where they grew up, and twenty years later, recreate Kickboxer – using the same costumes, props, locations and all. Their bodies are much different – but frame-by-frame, word for word, as the cameras roll, you see the transformation, love and respect as the brother’s work to regain a sense of belonging and place and Gator struggles to regain control of his life. The crowning achievement of this family portrait is that it never passes judgement. As an audience member you experience the pain, the struggle, the vulnerability, the humour, and the absurdity of a family working to overcome their struggles. As you watch the footage of the younger brothers edited alongside footage of the men they’ve become twenty years later, you clearly see the affection that exists between them and how their lives are forever intertwined. All the while Zachary emcees the evening from a chair on the stage.
It was about half way through Your brother. Remember? when I realized the man sitting next to me in the front row was Zachary’s brother Gator. The tenderness, honesty, simplicity and complexity of Zachary and Gator is an homage to families. Any conflict can be overcome with love, commitment and dedication, and this I learned from Zachary and Gator one cold night in New York.