Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Written by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Charles Towers
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Lowell, MA) Every time a member of one’s family dies, the remaining members of the family must re-form to create a unit, or split away and cease to be. This is an especially arduous task for two almost estranged brothers in The Best Brothers. They must resolve what they were to each other when the matriarch of the family was alive, and what they are to each other now that she is gone.
Hamilton (Michael Canavan) has always had an easier time in life than his brother, Kyle (Bill Kux), at least on the surface. As his dead mother (played by both actors) tells the audience, Hamilton could always work a room while Kyle was more inside-out (or outside-in, she could never be sure). As all mothers do in such sibling situations, this one made a choice to love Kyle harder than his brother, and the two brothers now must process this choice as they navigate the many details of burying their mother.
Daniel MacIvor’s script has flashes of brilliance, but it also tries too hard to be clever or deep. Sometimes, the dialogue adds too much detail or tries too hard to set us up for the joke, as when we are treated to the “can you believe it” details of how Hamilton’s and Kyle’s mother dies under the weight of drunk, fat, Filipino drag queen who falls off a float during a gay pride parade. Also, there is a painful metaphor of dog ownership as unconditional love which fails to be either Hallmark cute or deep, and we are left with images of hearts on leashes and relieving themselves in kitchens.
Still, there are great lines to be had in this play, but this production never seems to get the timing right to capitalize on them. The dialogue between Hamilton and Kyle must be faster and more overlapping for us to believe they are brothers, but the talk on stage is labored and theatrical, filled with too many portent pauses. It stands in stark contrast to the best strength of the recently departed television show, Parenthood, which often had weaker writing but still had scenes that crackled with life.
Another difficulty of the show is that we can’t arrive at a satisfying story arc for Hamilton. Canavan goes for uptight and stressed in his character. The performance is too pushed, and Hamilton rarely comes off as a sympathetic Kevin Spacey-in-the-beginning-of-the-movie character. Also, the conceit of the actors being asked to interpret their dead mother by donning gloves and affected accents comes off as caricature. Finally, the performance on stage is made even more diminutive by the unexplained giant grey pillars that bordered the set.
And despite all this, the play works well on some levels, because there is something so universal in a family drama, and something so pathetically familiar in seeing two brothers squabble over a dead mother’s love.