Two brothers-in-law with little in common aside from their family connection struggle to make sense of their lives after a vicious crime robs them of their families in Paul Rawlings' "Two Brothers Who Aren't Brothers." Monotonous onstage action never echoes or earns the emotionally high stakes of the play's sorrowful premise.

Two brothers-in-law with little in common aside from their family connection struggle to make sense of their lives after a vicious crime robs them of their families in Paul Rawlings’ “Two Brothers Who Aren’t Brothers.” The play was conceived as a study of polar opposites coping with tragedy and the ways in which they grieve and bond, but the monotonous onstage action never echoes or earns the emotionally high stakes of the play’s sorrowful premise.

Dix (Joe Thompson) is hiding from the world while he empties and sells his house, but his disturbingly cheerful in-law Jack (John Jimerson) is determined to soften him with familial love and sermons in faith.

Stopping by in the opening scene to take an expensive carpet off Dix’s hands, Jack starts attempting to coax the despondent atheist into maintaining the now severed link to his wife’s churchgoing Southern family and, by extension, into embracing Jesus Christ.

As the sparse furniture disappears, offering a paper-thin layer of metaphorical meaning, each of the first six scenes represents another day and another visit.

Little evolution takes place from one clumsily transitioned scene to the next and the same discussions about guilt, faith, family and ways of coping seem to crop up again and again in no particular order.

The issues playwright Rawlings addresses here could well fit into a 10-minute scene; the lack of a narrative arc leaves the development of character and plot in a stagnant limbo that founders over the duration of three acts.

Director Sue Lawless is unable to assist the two actors, making their Off Broadway debuts here; both fail to effectively portray their dimly sketched characters’ migrations and lay it on too thick when concentrated spots of heightened emotion crop up in the script.

In the same vein, Lawless’ choices for staging are either too static or too overstated. Each man gets to enact his awaited breakdown, with the action both times fading to black as the character writhes on the floor. No need to let it sink in too long, though, because just around the corner is a new morning, a new shirt and another aimless meeting.

Jimerson, whose character tries to make the best of his lot, does occasionally offer a few charming, pleasant moments of relief, not only for his friend but also for the rest of us in the dark.

Two Brothers Who Are Not Brothers

Players Theater; 248 seats; $45 top

Production

An All for Two presentation of a play in three acts by Paul Rawlings. Directed by Sue Lawless.

Creative

Sets, Michael Hotopp; costumes, Vanessa Leuck; lighting, Greg Hirsch; sound, Michael G. Ward; production stage manager, Nick Leavens. Opened Oct. 27, 2004. Reviewed Oct. 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Cast

Dix - Joe Thompson Jack - John Jimerson
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