The Brothers Gentle produced by SockMonkey playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival is a poignant and often hilarious exploration of brotherhood, fathers and sexuality that is a welcome addition to this year’s festival.
Families are complicated, and in today’s modern times it is hard to find one that doesn’t at least verge on the term “dysfunctional” in some way. The family depicted in The Brothers Gentle is one that fits that definition to a T.
Focusing on the titular brothers, Birdie and Sampson, the play explores three moments in their relationship from early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as they navigate around the domineering presence of their father, known only as “The Man”.
One thing that really struck me during the first sequence was how it reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, with the two characters referring constantly to The Man as they tried to figure out how to appease him and avoid his wrath over an accident that occurred due to them entering his bedroom without permission. Despite their fear and trepidation there was a keen awareness of The Man’s fragility, as much of the first sequence touched on the relatively recent passing of the boys’ mother and the pain it had clearly inflicted upon their father.
As the play continued, The Man became more and more humanized, never becoming sympathetic per se, as it’s clear the boys still live in fear of his anger. But just as people grow up and learn to communicate and engage with their parents, so do the brothers until in the final sequence, sitting at their father’s deathbed, they are able to come to terms with their own deep-seated issues with him and find a way to connect with him.
I can’t stress how much I enjoyed this piece. I constantly harp in my reviews about how a good play only needs a stage, actors, a box and a stick to tell a strong story; the minimalist set of The Brothers Gentle that uses only lights and spartan props embodies this philosophy.
The audience is forced to focus on the actors and the details of the script they’re working with, and the strong performances and compelling writing bring the audience right into the story, needing no bells or whistles to convey what is needed.
Marc Blanchard and Scott Kuipers – as both writers and performers – deserve a great deal of credit for the quality of this show; they’re able to convey vulnerability, cruelty and the intimate nature of a fraternal relationship that made me want to keep watching them beyond their three brief scenes, even if so much of the story is built around their relationship with their father. Sampson and Birdie are such likeable characters that I couldn’t help but connect with them and the struggles they faced.
With a strong script, great performances and a fantastic location in the Passe Muraille I strongly recommend The Brothers Gentle as part of your Fringe experience. Just be aware that the Backspace doesn’t have the most comfortable seating and while cushioning is provided some may struggle. The quality of the piece is well worth it though.
- The Brothers Gentle plays at Theatre Passe Muraille – Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Not recommended for persons under 14, Sexual content, Nudity, Mature language.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Thursday, July 5th at 9:30 PM
- Saturday, July 7th at 5 PM
- Monday, July 9th at 2:15 PM
- Tuesday July 10th at 8:30 PM
- Thursday July 12th at 6:15 PM
- Friday July 13th at 10:30 PM
- Saturday July 14th at 4:30 PM
- Sunday July 15th at 5:45 PM
Photo of Marc Blanchard and Scott Kuipers by Samantha Polzin