daniel macivor & john beale in the best brothers at the stratford festival
photo by cylla von tiedemann
Two weeks ago as part of DaPoPo Theatre’s month-long theatre festival, The Live In, at The Living Room on Agricola Street, I was given the opportunity to experience one of theatre’s oldest and most powerful visceral responses: the act of catharsis. Having emerged from an emotional weekend, I attended a one-night-only staged reading of Daniel MacIvor’s play The Best Brothers, which premiered at the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival of Canada this past summer. It was the perfect mixture of heartwarming and absurd and often led me into my favourite emotion: laughter through tears.
Kyle and Hamilton are brothers grieving the sudden loss of their mother, Ardith “Bunny” Best, who died in a freak accident involving a plus-sized drag queen named Pina Colada during the Pride Parade. The grieving process is a deeply personal one that is unique to each person and circumstance and the disparate Best brothers struggle to cooperate with one another in the execution of their mother’s final wishes.
The construction of The Best Brothers is similar to other two-hander MacIvor plays in that he plays a lot with overlapping dialogue and characters who appear to finish one another’s sentences, even when delivering monologues directly to the audience. This is particularly effective for Kyle and Hamilton because it suggests that, despite how opposite they seem at first glance, they also have the shared idiosyncrasies of siblings. Yet, this play also has a very linear narrative where Kyle and Hamilton exist both in their own separate spheres and also come together in dialogue that propels the story forward in a quite conventional way. The result is a sort of hybrid between a play like In On It and a play like Marion Bridge and MacIvor captures the most compelling aspects of the storytelling in both.
MacIvor plays Hamilton, the tightly wound architect whose emphasis on decorum, maturity and propriety clashes fervently with John Beale’s more haphazard and hesitant real estate agent Kyle, who would like to have their mother’s visitation catered and to be free to pass out his business cards to guests. Much of the contention that arises between the brothers is rooted in the relationship that they have had with their mother from childhood and their relationship to her recently adopted dog, the often naughty Enzo. Throughout the play repressed emotions come to a head (in the middle of the funeral service no less!), secrets are revealed and Enzo gets a new home.
What is so lovely about the relationship between Hamilton and Kyle and the way that MacIvor paints the revelations that emerge in this play is that they are all rooted in subtlety and subtext. The brothers grow into this new world without their mother, into new relationships with each other, with Enzo and with themselves both slowly and slightly, suggesting the potential for growth to come out of tragedy, but acknowledging that such things require time and in the complexity of theatre, like in life, there are no instant solutions or quick fixes. The chemistry between MacIvor and Beale in this piece, even in a staged reading, is extraordinary. At times I could see the shadows of the little boys they had once been cross their faces and it was clear that there was a rich shorthand between both the characters and the actors which created the intense allusion of brotherhood. Beale’s performance as Kyle is an especially interesting one, he has this beautiful naivety of spirit, which sometimes gives him an affable carefree quality and sometimes makes him seem a bit lost and forlorn. It is a cocktail of emotions that one doesn’t see performed so flawlessly very often.
MacIvor and Beale also both portray Bunny Best in a series of monologues that set the scene for the adoption of Enzo and, as Kelly Nestruck writes in his review of the play from The Globe and Mail, they will very likely make you want to get a dog of your own. The choice to have both MacIvor and Beale characterize Bunny is a strong one, as both portrayals are as different as Hamilton and Kyle, but also with distinct similarities. This suggests that we are given the opportunity to see a very literal representation of each brother’s perspective on his mother. The truth is subjective and we would imagine that if Bunny were there to represent herself, her own portrayal would be different yet again.
This is a play that I would love to see have a full production in Halifax. Keeping an internationally renowned local playwright like MacIvor working continually in Halifax presents all sorts of exciting opportunities for both the artists and the theatre community in Nova Scotia as well as for all the theatregoers of this great province. Halifax-based actor John Beale’s talent is given a marvelous showcase in this play that audiences deserve to see. It is also just a beautifully constructed, heartwarming, smart and insightful story.
For now, Halifax audiences can see John Beale, along with Nova Scotian actors Marty Burt, Emmy Alcorn, Heather Rankin and Ryan Rogerson in the Mulgrave Road/Neptune Theatre production of Daniel MacIvor’s play Bingo, playing at Neptune’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle Street) now until November 4th. Check out this review from the Mulgrave Road production, with the same cast, from July 2011. For more information please visit www.neptunetheatre.com.
DaPoPo’s The Live In includes play readings, DaPoPo’s newest production, a return of The Drinking Game and workshops, all at the Living Room (2353 Agricola Street) through October 31, 2012. Check out this website for more information!