Bars and Measures, a new play by Idris Goodwin, recently opened at the Jungle Theater as part of a rolling premiere. It is a play that delves into the things that separate us and bring us together.
It focuses on two brothers Eric and Bilal. They are both musicians deeply invested in their art; Eric is a pianist who plays mostly classical, and Bilal plays jazz on the upright bass. We enter their story and relationship as audience members when Bilal is in jail awaiting trial for crimes of supporting a terrorist organization. And Eric is moving from classical to jazz, visiting his brother in prison every chance he gets for music lessons and to learn the ways of jazz.
As time passes we learn more about Bilal, how he has always struggled to find focus and has had problems with violence. How in his childhood his parents put him in martial arts in order to help him, and how recently he has converted to Islam with much the same goal, to find purpose and calm. We learn how that goal as lead him to prison and how as things unfold that impacts the relationship he has with his brother. Within the 70 minutes that it takes for this play to unfold we see things unravel, and when the lights came on at the end I was slightly surprised. It didn't seem like enough, it didn't seem like the story had been completed. But like in jazz you can't always have a neat ending, sometimes it has to just fade and leave you hanging .
The set, designed by Andrea Heilman, evokes the brothers' struggle to remain connected as their lives and beliefs drift further apart. The division between the two sides of the stage is stark. On one side we see Eric's upper class apartment with hard wood floors and a beautiful grand piano. On the other side we see the visitor's room of the prison that is now Bilal's new home. It is concrete and cold. But on the back wall of both there are neon lights, flowing in Eric's space and more straight and rigid in the prison but both still carry an association of music and jazz.
Darius Dotch as Eric and Ansa Akyea as Bilal in "Bars and Measures". Provided by Jungle Theater.
Ansa Akyea and Darius Dotch bring truth and depth to Bilal and Eric and the play is worth seeing for their performances alone. Taous Claire Khazem and Maxwell Collyard round out the cast playing various characters from a fellow musician, lawyer, prison guard and FBI agent. Although these two actors are obviously talented I wonder if the play would have been stronger with just Eric and Bilal appearing on stage.
From listening to the audience's reactions after the play, it seemed to be a greeted with a mixed reception. But sometimes those are the most interesting plays to go to, form your own opinions and take part in the conversation. With the subject matter of the play there is certainly plenty to talk about. Thankfully the Jungle is ahead of us on this. Bars and Measures is part of their come early, stay late program. After every performance there is an audience talk back lead by someone involved in the production. I highly encourage you to participate.
Bars and Measures is currently playing at the Jungle Theater until October 9.
Thank you to the Jungle Theater for inviting me to this production.