note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
The stage is barren. Suddenly, a background video announces Prologue, and thus begins the East Coast premiere of Nova Scotian actor-playwright Daniel McIvor’s 90-minute, one-act, two-man comedy, “The Best Brothers,” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Under Merrimack Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Charles Tower’s direction, actors Michael Canavan and Bill Kux’s portrayal of contrasting brothers Hamilton and Kyle Best, is praiseworthy, but the play’s structure is boring.
Set in contemporary Toronto, “The Best Brothers” was successful in Canada and crossed the border, appearing in American theaters. It drew polite laughs and applause opening night in Lowell, but I question whether its appeal will be as strong here.
The play builds to a climax and ends in a touching, silent scene, but everything in-between is predictable in this mother-always-loved-you-best sibling rivalry comedy.
Each scene is announced by video, separated by appropriate mood music, entitled: Prologue, The Obituary, The Visitation, The Eulogy, The Condolences, The Will, and Epilogue. An occasional podium or two-seat sofa is pushed on the dark stage, further identifying Kyle’s condo, Hamilton’s home, a funeral home, church - you get the idea.
In the opening scene, standing in separate spotlights, pragmatic older brother Hamilton (Michael Canavan), and his younger, gay, devil-may-care brother, Kyle (Bill Kux), are brokering real estate deals. Standing in what’s purported to be a large field (says the video) Hamilton, an architect, is proposing a development, while Kyle is in a penthouse, selling condos. Simultaneously, they are interrupted by a phone call. Their reactions to their lively, 80-year-old mother’s sudden death is identical - until...
Hamilton is angry, distraught, that his mother died in an accident during a gay pride parade. A float tipped nearby, spilling a huge, 400-pound, cross-dressing gay on top of her 102-pound, fragile frame, crushing her. Hamilton blames Kyle for their tragic loss. If Kyle weren’t gay and his mother wasn’t there in his behalf, she wouldn’t have died, he spouts. She always loved you more anyway, he adds, (throughout the play). Kyle disagrees. “Mother loved you harder,” he says.
Their contrasting personalities surface to a boiling point, even when they attempt to write her obituary. Hamilton erupts frequently at Kyle’s breezy attitude, his socially-inappropriate soiree suggestions for their mother’s “visitations,” funeral, etc., and their post-funeral discussion on sending out condolence appreciation responses.
Sandwiched in-between these brotherly disagreements, each son morphs into their mother, delivering soliloquies, after meticulously donning long, white gloves and a frivolous wide-brimmed red hat, adorned with a large, white quill-shaped feather,.
Hamilton is married, but his (unseen) wife is seen at fewer family events, such as Christmas, and the funeral, separating herself from him. Kyle has a longtime companion, Gordon, who doesn’t live with him, but is scandalously exciting and, at times, supportive.
The brothers’ competitiveness shamefully surfaces at their mother’s funeral, when Kyle delivers an overly-long, rambling introduction to Hamilton’s eulogy, then disagrees with it at the pulpit. Kyle takes over, enraging the simmering Hamilton, who attacks him.
And what about their mother’s beloved dog, Enzo? Hamilton hates the dog, we learn later, for good reason. Kyle tolerates it. Who will inherit and care for the cherished Italian greyhound? In fact, what did Mother bequeath to her sons? And will they eventually find common ground together? It’s all revealed in the end.
BOX INFO: Daniel McIvor’s 90-minute, one-act comedy, making its East Coast premiere through Feb. 1 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Nancy L. Donahue Theater, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. Tickets, $20-$60; check for senior, student, military, group and other discounts, performance times, and special related events. Visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.