Reviewed by James Karas
**** (out of five)
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival may bear the name of a 16th century English playwright but this year it also boasts the world premiere of a Canadian play in Daniel MacIvor’s The Best Brothers at the Studio Theatre.
The Best Brothers is a brilliant, witty, literate, funny and thoroughly entertaining play. It has only two actors on the stage but they play a number of characters including the brothers of the title.
The Best brothers, Kyle (John Beale) and Hamilton (Daniel MacIvor), get together to write the newspaper announcement of their mother’s death. They are very different people and composing an almost pro forma notice becomes a revealing and funny scene.
Kyle is gay, high-strung, emotional, at times exuberant and always unorthodox. He is having a relationship with a male prostitute and rarely agrees with his brother.
Hamilton is a tough, sensible man who speaks forcefully and at times gruffly. He is a building designer (architect?) who tries to keep Kyle earth-bound with little success.
Beale and MacIvor handle the roles with aplomb and high effectiveness but the author gives them more than just the well-defined main characters. Their mother was just killed in a freak accident during a Gay Pride Parade. She was an artist, an eccentric and a fascinating character who lived life to the fullest. We never see her but her two sons enact solo scenes from her life and the actors have the chance to perform in very different ways.
The other non-appearing character is their mother’s dog Enzo who has some interesting characteristics including the ability to destroy a $250,000.00 kitchen and display sexual prowess in the park, despite being fixed, that would make Don Juan envious.
The plot moves simply from the writing of the death notice for the paper, to discussing visitations, to delivering the eulogy at the funeral and the “settling” of the estate. Each step is accompanied by arguments and the brothers end up at each other’s throats during the eulogy.
It is a simple play that finds depth, love, eccentricity and a host of bizarre characters and situations that are hinted at or passed over sometimes all too quickly. The fascination is in how much MacIvor packs into an hour and a half with only two actors handling the entire load.
A few props suffice for the set and there is judicious and intelligent use of lighting for the rest. Julie Fox gets credit as the Set Designer and Ital Erdal is the Lighting Designer.
Credit for outstanding work goes to director Dean Gabourie who brings the whole production together as a funny and moving piece of work that conveys the love and eccentricities of the Best family.
The programme lists a number of people who participated in the development of the play but the end result is marvelous and deceptively simple theatre.__________
The Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor opened on July 12 and will run in repertory until September 16 at the Studio Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca