Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Best Brothers

THE BEST BROTHERS probes sibling rivalry and self-understand

It is generally assumed that when a playwright scribes a play it is done with a purpose in mind. That objective can range from entertaining to horrifying, from philosophical to escapistic.

In Daniel MacIvor’s THE BEST BROTHERS, which is now getting its world premiere at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, there are numerous themes, but the play’s overriding purpose is hard to pinpoint. Yes, there is such a thing as sibling rivalry, parents do have favorites, there is loneliness in life, serendipity instances occur, and we see things through our own perceptual filter. But, in the end, what does MacIvor want us to take from his play?

In an interview MacIvor stated, “I don’t like to talk too much about what a play means; the play knows more than I do….it just needs to be uncovered.” How is the audience expected to uncover that which the playwright has not clearly set forth?

The script relates the tale of Ardith “Bunny” Best who, while watching the annual Gay Rights parade, was killed when a 300-pound drag queen fell off a float and killed her. Her “bereaved” sons are Hamilton, a heterosexual uptight architect, and Kyle, a gay, troubled, free spirit, real estate salesman. Each brother struggles to understand his mother, himself and his sibling. Each of their personal lonelinesses, decisions made, and paths taken, play out as the duo deals with the death, planning of the funeral, the eulogies to be given, and the division of spoils, including disposing of their mother’s dog.

The script is both compelling and confounding. The characters are clearly etched. Humor abounds in the planning for the funeral, the eulogy and the post funeral scenes.

The reasoning for some references are not as clear. What is the significance of the death by a 300-pound drag queen? How can a small dog destroy a $250,000 kitchen? Why are these factors stressed over and over?

The production, under the direction of John Tiggeloven, is excellent. The characterizations are nicely etched. Both John Beal as Kyle and Daniel MacIvor as Hamilton clearly inhabit their roles. The scene changes are effectively done. The set works well. The incidental music aids in mood development.

Capsule judgement: Your reaction to THE BEST BROTHERS will be based on whether you accept the production on its face value and enjoy what is on stage, or you think about what has transpired and need a clear purpose and path to that outcome.

BTW…Stratford’s programs usually contain excellent clarifying messages about the playwright and the play itself. It’s worth getting to the theatre early to read the materials. This, however, is not the case with THE BEST BROTHERS program. Vicki Stroich, the Artistic Associate of the Festival of Arts Theatre Projects, contributes a self-indulgent piece about her awe of Daniel MacIvor. It adds little in helping the reader understand either MacIvor or the play.