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Friday, 13 July 2012

Review: The Best Brothers


John Beale as Kyle Best, and Daniel MacIvor as Hamilton Best.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Directed by Dean Gabourie
Starring Daniel Macivor and John Beale

The story: Hamilton and Kyle Best have just lost their mother in a freak accident, and as they prepare for the aftermath of obituaries, visitations and will-readings, their relationships with their mother, each other and their past is revealed and explored. Not without a last word or two from their mother though.

One would think that the above synopsis is not the lightest fare for theatre-goers. One would be wrong. Because while the subject may sound morose, the treatment given it by multiple-award-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor has more humour than pathos and thus audience tears are generated by uproarious laughter and not shared sorrow.

This is not to say there are not moments of quiet empathy, either. In fact the balance may tip slightly towards the funny, but those moments highlight for anyone who has lost a loved-one suddenly, the feeling of surreality, the ridiculousness of having to decide between serving sandwiches or cake at a funeral reception. The brothers' reconciliation, an acceptance of each other and themselves, is equally poignant, yet touched by humour.

In this two-hander with three characters on a minimal set, Mr. MacIvor plays Hamilton, the straight-laced, tightly-wound architect son; John Beale plays Kyle, the gay, charmingly indecisive realtor son. Their comic timing together is fantastic, Mr. MacIvor playing the straight-man to Mr. Beale's verbal pratfalls, but like Burns and Allen each earn the laughs his own way. Each actor also takes a turn becoming Ardith "Bunny" Best, their mother. A big green straw hat, green lace gloves and barely altered voice is all they need to create the transformation, and we get a view of her life about which  her sons never seem to be aware. Through her we see that her boys are each more like her - in different ways - than either suspects. Director Dean Gabourie can be thanked for keeping both characters from becoming cariactures.

Daniel MacIvor as Ardith Best.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
For a world premiere there is not much wrong with this play and its performers at all - except for a slight shift in focus which keeps it from becoming completely coherent. As the play draws to a close there is more emphasis on an unseen character, Ardith's pet dog, Enzo. A thorn in both sons' sides, the dog illustrates a woman coming to understand unconditional love, and will thrill pet-lovers everywhere - but coming in the last two or three scenes one may wonder what the play was really about. A woman loving her dog more than her sons? Understanding between brothers? Understanding their mother? An understanding of unconditional love? Between brothers? All of the above?  
Daniel MacIvor and John Beale as Hamilton and Kyle Best.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

No question, this question does not keep the production from being thoroughly laugh-out-loud enjoyable, just a bit puzzling. Aim to see it for the former and have an open discussion on the latter, and hope we will be seeing more works by Daniel MacIvor on these stages in the future (what took them so long, anyway?). The Best Brothers continues in repertory at the Studio Theatre until September 16th.

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