A historic collaboration between Theater Mu and Penumbra, The Brothers Paranormal plays with expectations, and showcases how effective and heart-wrenching stage-based horror can be.

Plot-twists abound in this tale about two Thai-American brothers and their “ghost busting” business. Max (Sherwin Resurreccion) and Visarut (Kurt Kwan) are hired by Delia (Regina Marie Williams) and Felix (James Craven) to investigate paranormal activity in their home that only Delia can see. While Visarut is a true believer in the paranormal, Max tries to persuade him their real business is disproving hauntings. Displaced from their home during Hurricane Katrina, Delia and Felix struggle feeling like they belong in the Midwest. Visarut and the brothers’ mother (Leslie Ishii) immigrated to the United States before Max’s birth, and they too feel a powerful sense of displacement and longing in their new home. Family histories of mental illness collide making everything suspect, and leave you hoping ghosts are real.

A large part of what makes this play so compelling is the way that these two family’s stories resonate with one another, even as they preserve cultural difference. Particularly in the first half of the play, scenic designer Vicki Smith splits the stage to make one half the brothers’ kitchen and the other half Felix and Delia’s home. The parity of the split, and the way that the spaces feel continuous yet distinct reinforces the similarity of their situations. While nominally about ghosts, The Brothers Paranormal and their ghost-hunting is a cipher to discuss issues of crossings (physical, emotional, national) and very human reactions to abrupt, unalterable change.

Doing stage-based horror is no mean feat--timing, lighting, staging, and placement require a precision and rigor to be effective. When you couple this with compelling acting, the result can be so much more intense than film. This is not to say that The Brothers Paranormal doesn’t borrow from film -- Ringu, The Sixth Sense, even Ghostbusters--the production’s visual style is heavily influenced by the paranormal expectations already set by film. But being live, it has an intensity, a pathos that is impossible to get from a flat screen. The physicality of it, perhaps best embodied in a devastating athletic performance by Michelle de Joya, heightens the visitor’s experience.

The short of it is, The Brothers Paranormal is absolutely worth your time! Well-paced with interesting, multifaceted characters, it manages to delve into the occult without feeling hokey. Playwright Prince Gomolvilas lovingly crafts his characters, paying close attention to their use of language and backstories. Go before you hear too many spoilers as they are guaranteed to lesson your experience! The show runs until the 26th.