Mortality, love, family, order versus chaos, and the curious sway dogs hold over their two-legged “masters” - Daniel MacIvor's The Best Brothers certainly covers a lot of territory. That is does so with wit and charm to spare speaks to why MacIvor is considered one of Canada's finest playwrights.
Prairie Theatre Exchange has a solid track record with his plays (including 2011's Bingo! and 2008's How It Works), and this season opener is no exception - director Bob Metcalfe's production was sharp and finely-tuned, even in its Wednesday preview performance.
There's much to be said for a play that can turn a scene featuring two brothers writing their mother's obituary into a laugh-out-loud-funny affair. - Joff Schmidt
The 2012 comedy follows the Best brothers, Hamilton (Paul Essiembre) and Kyle (Carson Nattrass) as they deal with the aftermath of their free-spirited mother's death - a “tragic, disgusting, horrifying end” (according to Hamilton) brought about by a drunken drag queen driving a float at a gay pride parade.
As they contemplate her life, the question of who mother loved best - the sober, but uptight Hamilton or the guileless Kyle - rears its head. In a series of slightly surreal - but sumptuously-written - monologues, the two actors take turns playing Bunny, the deceased mother - who reveals it may actually have been the dog, Enzo, that was her true love.
MacIvor's characteristic black comedy, as you might surmise, flows strong here. There's much to be said for a play that can turn a scene featuring two brothers writing their mother's obituary into a laugh-out-loud-funny affair.
At the same time, The Best Brothers has a poignancy to it that often surprises. Consider, for example, Bunny's meditation on the cosmos, and her own place in it - “A planet in many universes, but a sun in none.” While comedy is front and centre here, MacIvor still manages to ask some profound questions about what love is, what “family” really means, and the order - or lack thereof - of the universe.
There's lots of quick back-and-forth in the writing of the 90-minute script, and Metcalfe's snappily-paced production makes the most of it. So, too, does his two-man local cast. Nattrass finds the charm in Kyle's cluelessness. And Essiembre - an actor quickly establishing himself as one of the city's best - gives a gracefully nuanced performance that makes us care about a character who could easily become a dull stick in the mud.
The smart flow of the show is helped considerably by clever design work. Janelle Regalbuto's elegantly simple set is a “blank canvas” of a rolling white backdrop, onto which everything from a starry night sky to architectural floor plans to Scott Henderson's bold lighting design is projected.
No bones about it - The Good Brothers is a breed unto itself, and highly recommended.