Nothing breaks fraternal bonds more than stabbing your brother in the back and leaving him out to dry—literally. But what happens if he refuses to die? Fratricide is at the center of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Cain and Cain,” a new work written and directed by Jesse T. Nee-Vogelman ’13. The play—which is running at the Loeb Ex through April 21—illustrates the strained ties between two brothers, Chad and Michael, as they both come to terms with the consequences of the unequal love they received from their mother. Through innovative set design and striking acting, “Cain and Cain” weaves together themes of family, love, and death and alludes to the biblical story of the brothers Cain and Abel.
The play follows the struggle of younger brother Michael (Benjamin J. Lorenz ’14) in his attempts to gain the affection of his mother (Darcy C. Donelan ’14.) Despite these efforts, their mother continues to make her overwhelming preference for Chad (Daniel W. Erickson ’14) clear. Out of spite, Michael poisons Chad, stabs him with their mother’s knife, and then carries his body to the top of a cliff. However, Chad refuses to die and instead continues to make Michael’s life miserable. After the disappearance of his brother, Michael still cannot win his mother’s affection, as she honors Chad’s memory by caring for dogs that bear his name.
Vogelman wrote a complicated script that not only brings together multiple themes but also uses several literary devices. The storyline features neither a clear protagonist nor a linear plot. The play’s focus continually shifts from the Michael to the mother to Chad to all three together. Vogelman’s script makes great use of soliloquies that, through their poetic quality, adds a level of depth to the characters and challenges preconceived notions of good and evil. For example, in one self-reflexive moment Chad admits that through killing him, Michael was able to do for him what Chad would never have the courage to do for himself. Suddenly murder become an act that frees Chad from his overbearing mother, and labeling one brother as ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’ becomes much less straightforward. Through these soliloquies Vogelman adds depth to the story by showcasing different individual sentiments and the consequences of the interplay of these emotions.
The familial themes at the heart of “Cain and Cain” are brought to life through the physicality of the acting, and the actors’ different intonations of voice compliment their personal stake in the storyline. For example, Lorenz’s pleading and defeated tone represents his continued failure to gain the love of his mother, Erickson employs a sure and almost mocking sonority that reflects a life of being favored, and Donelanswitches her voice—which ranges from sweet and caressing to biting and exasperated—to make her favoritism clear. Even the way the characters carry themselves helps tell the story. Chad moves nonchalantly and with a sense of self-assuredness. It is as if his every step reveals his knowledge of his mother’s favoritism. Michael is often found hunched or with his head hung, attempting to evade his mother’s rebukes. And the mother shuffles from place to place as if on edge, caught between equally intense love and hatred for her sons.
Depth is also added by the innovative set design of the stage. Audience members are seated in the center of the set, so that the action of the play encircles them. In this way, the audience members are literally submerged in the story. Each backdrop—such as a kitchen table or a cabbage patch—is set up around the audience, and as a result the action flows seamlessly from scene to scene. This design increases the pace of the play as the story unfolds around the audience with no breaks between the action. It allows the audience to take in the “Cain and Cain” in its entirety, in a way disabling the onlookers from becoming mentally removed by totally immersing them in the action.
“Cain and Cain” plays with its biblical namesake through unique uses of literary and visual media. The religious allusions dictate the actions of each character, with even the monologues becoming more like confessionals. And through Vogelman’s use of soliloquies, the lines of good and bad become blurred as each character cannot help but admit his or her own sins. By allowing for depth to be translated through the script, acting, and set, “Cain and Cain” presents a well-crafted modern exploration into the complications of brotherhood.