"Two Brothers and a Bullet. Two Lovers and a Leap. And the Ghosts Know the Truth"
It’s hard to see where this could go wrong.
But as fantastic Stephen King is a story writer, and John Cougar (are we not using that?) Mellencamp is a song writer, a collaboration could go either way. Or it could go straight up the middle.
I think maybe this went up the middle.
I’m going to start by saying that I really loved Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The sets were amazing, the acting was fantastic, the songs were great and the dialogue was just bitchin’.
Ghost Brothers opens before it starts. The stage set, which is some backwater Mississippi town that seems is on the verge of going ghost itself, is eerie and while the story itself slips between the late 1960’s and late 2000’s, it gives you the feeling of something older and darker. Members of the chorus hang out silently on the set, not interacting with each other or taking any note of the audience that is still filing in. Americana music plays, and does a good job of settling you into the mood of the world you’re waiting to see.
It’s Stephen King. So there’s a family filled with ghosts, secrets, murder and more ghosts and murder and secrets. I mean this is a good way. It’s one of the things he does, and does well.
Joe McCandless is a tortured family man. His sons, a newly successful writer and a struggling but able musician, hate each other, and not only because of a girl that they both love. Joe is concerned that their hate will wind up killing them both, because when he was a small boy, his older brothers also had a hatred for each other, and wound up dead, and haunting the family cabin with the girl they both loved. As the more recent family McCandless converge on the cabin, we are treated to the long deceased brothers unraveling of their secrets and history. And it appears that they too are worried about the ultimate fate of the next generation.
Egging the hatred on is “The Shape”, who is the Devil in full tattooed rockabilly style, and he is countered by another of the cabin’s ghosts, a caretaker who cared for the cabin and now tries to take care of it’s occupants, living and dead.
Mellencamp’s songs work very well with King’s story, and up until very close to the end, it seems that this show can do no wrong.
And then, it kind of does. Minor spoilers ahead.
Joe tells his own kids the initial story, leaving out what we are led to believe are some important details. But he does tell them that his older brothers killed each other and the girl they loved in a heart-breaking murder/suicide. He hopes that by telling them the story, that the past will not be repeated.
When Joe’s final secrets are revealed, and we watch the past unfold, it’s heart-stopping and mesmerising, but on reflection, the Big Final Secret doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. Sure, it’s tragic and I’m sure it really screwed little Joe up a little more than he was bound to be, but I was left wondering how the revelation would have made any difference at all.
The spooky does kick back in, and I have to say that the special effects (I have no idea what to call them in a stage production, sue me) are just absolutely great.
If you’re expecting a happy ending in the traditional style, let me remind you again that this is Stephen King. He doesn’t do happy endings for happy endings sake, but the final reveal is satisfying and chilling. Something else King does very well.
So, not great. But I loved it. Did it go up the middle? Ultimately it did, but not without a lot of swerving into the cool. But to be honest, I wouldn’t even know how to begin to fix the few things that in my humble opinion, I felt to be flaws. I look forward to the release on CD of the Original Cast, as well as the Superstar edition (Elvis Costello as The Shape? Sweet!). I’d see this again. And more than once.