Second theatre show in less than a week! I’m so proud of myself. Plus, this was the very first preview of The Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor at Tarragon Theatre so I felt accomplished for making it out so early. I had been wanting to start visiting Toronto theatres–especially the ones producing new works by Canadians–and I’m intrigued by the idea of tw0-handers as a playwright, so it was a wonderful combination that led to me finding cheap student preview tickets . . .
The Best Brothers is a comedy about the tragic (yet humorous) death of “Bunny” Best and the effect it has upon her two sons, Kyle (John Beale) and Hamilton (Daniel MacIvor) and one more beloved family member she left behind–her Italian greyhound Enzo. At the talkback afterward, MacIvor told us that it was initially all about the dog. While the play definitely led to the dog and the way dogs show us how to let go of loneliness and love, it was more about the ways in which this death in the family gave the two brothers a space to deal with the relationship to one another.
Altogether, I liked the story because I love minimal works that focus on the inherent humor and tragedy of simple human interaction–the intense space between two people. The Mainspace at Tarragon used only a few pieces of furniture, lighting, and a very well-placed dog cage to suggest many different physical spaces. The green floor and wall could have stood out in their neon-greatness to distract from the words and the actors, but this never happened. Instead it served as a calming yet also alert backdrop to the same span of grieving and bickering that took place in front of it. I’m also glad the sound designer (Jesse Ash) used a composer (Jonathan Monro) for the transition music. The wordless soundscapes complemented the characters’ movements through the grieving process instead of distracting or covering over them with words. Everything was meant to be seen and felt, not interpreted. As the director (Dean Gabourie) said during the post-show talkback, the only two times you get space and excuses from public life are birth and death.
Although the many locations couldn’t be cut or trimmed down, MacIvor was smart enough to realize that he didn’t need any other actors or characters on stage. When he wanted the mother’s voice to be heard, he wrote monologues to be acted by himself and by Beale. Both portrayed the mother in his own voice, performing his own interpretation of this important matriarchal figure. It only took green gloves, a hat, a very specific stance, and the ritual of the stage transition to cue the “new” character. Tarragon’s artistic director (Richard Rose) seemed concerned that audience’s wouldn’t understand, but any extra clarification would have been over-the-top.
It was interesting to see a piece starring the playwright in a role that he wrote to be performed opposite John Beale. I’m skeptical when I see playwrights injecting themselves into their own work because I disconnect myself as much as possible, but in this case, especially since it was inspired by his own dog Buddy, MacIvor’s performance more than satisfied the demands of his own script. For me, the highest moment of the play was his monologue to Enzo. It was the moment when he revealed how little he knew about his own place in the world and even though it started with a rant about Legos, it ended in a place where I could finally see his character Hamilton beginning to open up.
There is so much more to say about this production and the other silent and spoken moments that moved me. But I do want to focus on one critique. As a writer, I have been taught not to over explicate. One of the patrons told MacIvor that she thought the play had ended at an earlier moment after Hamilton and Kyle had found a way to respect one another–but then the play didn’t end and instead went to a final denouement in the dog park. MacIvor said something about how he wasn’t gutsy enough to end a play like that, before concluding everything more gradually. I have to agree with the patron on this case. It could have left the audience a bit shocked and jarred, but to me, that would be more to the point of the constantly changing nature of relationships. Not tied up in bows, but a constant ebb-and-flow.
I enjoyed the performance and hope to make it out to more of Tarragon’s season and maybe more of MacIvor’s work (although I was shocked/dismayed to find out that one of his plays and my first play share a very similar title . . .)