The Best Brothers, playing at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, is a well staged and performed dark comedy about family ties and bonds in the wake of a mother’s funeral
In Tarragon’s production of Daniel MacIvor’s new play, The Best Brothers, Hamilton (played by MacIvor) and Kyle (John Beale) are dealing with the sudden death of their mother, Bunny, and all the attendant concerns, like coordinating the visitation, answering condolence cards and caring for her dog. These activities are complicated by tension between the two, based primarily on Hamilton’s jealousy of the relationship Kyle had with their mother.
This may not sound like a setup for a comedy, but it is. The repartee is familiarly sibling-like, but graced with MacIvor’s sharp wit. The brothers deliver retorts the rest of us can only dream of thinking up on the spot when fighting with a family member.
Each character in this two-hander has their own circumstances, of course: Hamilton barely speaks with his wife, and Kyle has secrets and a partner who makes a living as a sex worker and thus garners nothing but disapproval from the family. My companion for the play and I agreed we had to give MacIvor political props for even using the term “sex worker”.
The eulogy scene, wherein Kyle’s speech seems to have been written with heavy use of a thesaurus, is particularly masterful in its comedy. But there is still real feeling in the play – Kyle has his reasons for being cavalier about the situation, and there’s a scene with Hamilton in his bathrobe where I just wanted to hug the poor man.
Both actors at times take on the character of Bunny, speaking from beyond the grave. At first this is signified by with a green hat and gloves, accoutrements which gradually fail to appear as Bunny continues to manifest. At first I wondered about this, but it grew on me: as the brothers reconcile themselves more and more with the loss of their mother, they no longer need her trappings to feel close to her.
The action happens in a variety of spaces that are deftly conceived through lighting and set. A boldly green centre stage transforms into a visitation hall, with a rectangular spot in the centre to indicate the coffin; a sun-dappled forest, where Bunny once had an experience on what I took to be ayahuasca; and the chandeliered house where the boys were raised.
On either side of the stage are Hamilton’s and Kyle’s respective apartments, with furniture suited to temperament of each. A floating wall at the back of the stage silently glides into different positions to help create the various environments.
This is definitely the story of three people with a lot of money at their disposal, but the well-off are people too, who feel resentment and anger and loneliness. In this play you can feel these emotions for the characters, and also laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
- The Best Brothers is playing until October 27th at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgeman Avenue
- Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm
- Tickets range from $21-$53 (including discounts for students, seniors and groups) with $13 Rush Tickets at the door Fridays (on sale at 6pm) & Sundays (on sale at 1pm)
- Tickets can be purchased through the box office at 416.531.1827 or at www.tarragontheatre.com
Photo of John Beale and Daniel MacIvor by Cylla von Tiedemann