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A New Brain's Snappy Synapses 

click to enlarge Jordan Dobbins, Emma Dobbins and Evan Needham in A New Brain.

Courtesy of Redwood Curtain

Jordan Dobbins, Emma Dobbins and Evan Needham in A New Brain.

Director, actor, choreographer and wicked talent Alex Blouin let the new Redwood Curtain production of A New Brain marinate for years. Her persistence and ambition in getting this charming musical produced by Redwood Curtain Theatre finally comes to fruition in a spectacular way at 5th and D Street Theater. With star-studded local theater familiars, beautiful stage direction and stunning vocals guided by David Powell, there is nothing bad to say about this beautiful piece. As most of the cast and crew expect, I have thoughts, but in no way should they deter any lover of a good musicals from this must-see. In fact, you may be foolish to consider not seeing it. 

Dramaturgists say an incredible theatrical story could be successfully told in the middle of a Safeway parking lot — all other production elements simply accentuate the piece when transferred to the stage. This story of Gordon (Jordan Dobbins), a musician struggling to write for children's television celebrity Mr. Bungee (Evan Needham), is stricken with an arteriovenous malformation in his brain. His biggest fear is to die with his music still inside him. As he is attended by friend Rhonda (Emma Dobbins), lover Roger (Rigel Schmitt), mother Mimi (Chris Jioras), nurses (Tina Tomata and Nanette Voss), a homeless lady (Elaine Yslas) and a minister (Jaiden Clark), his songs propel the plot and illuminate each character and relationship. Blouin masterfully sculpts the story, making her complex stage patterns and beautiful tableaus look effortless. The dedication to character development and story make this piece universal and mesmerizing in any circumstance.

Unfortunately, the lighting and costume design did little to elevate the production and did not match the attention to detail given to the performance aspect. Though it didn't distract, more (or any) design in dream sequences, slight shifts in positioning that allow for actors to easily find their light or costumes that enhance characterization based on script cues, could propel the piece further. Why is Roger, presumably coming straight off the ocean and singing a stunning ballad about his love for sailing, looking like he is coming straight from Wall Street in sterile white light that doesn't quite envelope the actor? Likewise, what nurse wears sandal-like flats through their intensive care shift?  

Still, every actor gives their absolute best in every moment. Jordan Dobbins is always brilliant and hilarious bits of physicality in this production add yet another layer to his already impressive repertoire. Emma Dobbins again shows their versatility and dedication to every character (I can easily see them playing any of the other characters). Although I would have loved to see more chemistry between Schmitt's Roger and Dobbins' Gordon, the relationship was engaging due to Schmitt's gorgeous ballad delivery, which could make any hater swoon. Is there anything that Chris Jioras can't do? She could reach into every soul for the penultimate song of the show and reduce them to sobbing messes. Instead, she plants and sings her magnanimous truth, producing the same results without manipulation. Needham, Yslas and Voss produce some of their best work I have seen (particularly the former with spot-on vocals). Clark surprises, captivates and impresses — I had no clue how talented a vocalist and actor he is. Tomata makes the audience want her to be its best friend amidst difficult self-depreciating lyrics. As she is the only POC in the cast, I struggle with the messages but am awed by the gracious, elegant and inspiring delivery.  

I wish everyone would get tickets to this show, as they are worth every cent. I also hope Redwood Curtain Theatre takes it on the road to increase visibility and put the power of masterful theater storytelling on full display. Perhaps to a Safeway parking lot near you. 

Redwood Curtain Theatre's A New Brain runs through June 8, with 8 p.m. performances on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays. Visit

Tiggerbouncer Custodio (he/she/they) is an empowered queer Indigenous Filipino artist whose works have been seen on Humboldt stages and elsewhere.


Get a date for The Prom at Ferndale Repertory Theatre, in which big Broadway personalities make a small-town prom about them. Runs May 24 through June 16. Visit or call (707) 786-5483.

The Arcata Playhouse's Family Fun Series returns June 1 and 2 with Stand- up Stories: Multicultural Tales to Live By. Call (707) 822-1575 or visit

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