port of harlem magazine
Mosaic Theater
Bars and Measures Doesn’t Miss a Beat
Feb 09 – Feb 22, 2022

bars and measures

Making his directorial debut, Reginald L. Douglas brings to the Mosaic Theater stage a powerful, intense, and poignant play based on the true story of two brothers united by their love for music. One brother plays classical, the other plays jazz, and they are torn apart by ideologies and philosophies.
The stage illuminates the brothers standing in a prison visiting room engaged in a quick-pace animated bebop challenge, projecting their vocals as musical instruments into a crescendo of rhythmic jazz beats. Their camaraderie is warm and charming, against the ugly gray wall background and imposing black bars with a sullen correctional officer only an ear shot away. Not even bars are able to accomplish  what the American criminal justice system has attempted to do in so many Black and Brown communities - - tear these brothers asunder, so it seems at first.

The brothers at the center of the play are surprisingly refreshing. They’re archetypal, yet novel. They are fascinating, unique, complex, contradictory Black men.

Bilal, played by Louis E. Davis, the older of the two, is a Muslim caught in a post-9/11 Patriot Act-era sting and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. His faithful brother, Eric, played by Joel Ashur, supports his brother and believes unequivocally that Bilal would never be involved with terrorists.

Whenever tensions between the brothers reach a boiling point over guilt/innocence, family upbringing, American politics in the Middle East, or the tenets of classical music verses jazz, they quickly revert to their passion for music and turn the scene to bebopping and rhythmic cadets before embracing until the next visit.

The story is engaging and magnificently performed by four convincing actors who transitioned in and out of characters and between the past and the present with the ease of pouring syrup over flapjacks; with the story never losing its rhythm.

Eric meets a Muslim woman, Sylvia, played by veteran actress Lynette Rathnam, who sympathizes with Eric’s love for his brother and explains to him the tenets of Islam. The chemistry between the two pulsates on stage, but disappointingly never materializes.  

The story builds, carrying the audience along on Eric’s ardent fight to gather defense funds to prove his brother’s innocence and Bilal’s stalwart declaration that he is an innocent man; a victim of the government’s prejudice against predominantly Black, Islamic communities.

At trial, a recording of Bilal spewing anti-American rhetoric sends his brother into utter disbelief. In a fit of rage, Eric smashes Bilal’s prized stand-up bass then publicly denounces him. During their final prison visit, Eric looks his brother in the eyes and tells him that he belongs in prison. Eric returns home and stare off, while Bilal in his cell does the same. Both men hear the same musical arrangement playing in the distance. The stage goes black.

The stage lights come up and the multi-cultural and generational audience got to their feet with enthusiastic applauds and whistles. I don’t know whether or not folks were impacted in some way, but Bars and Measures is not forgettable.
Bars and Measures Trailer
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