When producing artistic director Natalie Novacek referred to her “stupidly talented cast” during a toast on the preview night for The Best Brothers, I smiled and raised my glass, but I’ll admit that I was thinking, ‘Sure, you’re the director, you’d have to say that, wouldn’t you?’ But as I sat in the Open Eye Figure Theater and watched the story unfold, I realised that although Novacek may have been biased, she wasn’t wrong. The cast — David Mann and Wade A. Vaughan — are stupidly talented. It took all of two seconds to be sucked into their world, and perhaps another one second to get an idea of their respective characters.
In Daniel MacIvor‘s fast-paced, smart and touching script, brothers Hamilton (Mann) and Kyle (Vaughan) have more differences than similarities, but are brought together by the sudden death of their mother, “Bunny”. This, the final production of Loudmouth Collective‘s season, is the very model of simplicity. With only the slightest of costume changes and a minimalistic set, the entire focus is on the story, and on the two actors telling it. With two such talented performers, this is a wise choice. Mann and Vaughan have perfect timing and wonderful chemistry; it’s hard to believe they didn’t grow up comparing themselves against each other and competing for their mother’s attention.
Truly, this is a gem of a performance that unfolds at just the right pace, with just enough action to keep it constantly intriguing, but is definitely a story driven by its characters and their relationships. It does perpetuate the trend of exploring universal human experiences (loss, rivalry, love) through the lens of upper-class white men, though; I was right there with the brothers and the pain of their loss, until one of them complained about his $250,000 kitchen renovation, which kind of jarred me from a place of empathy to a place of incredulity. Another moment of relatbility limiting came at the very end. In strange contrast to the rest of MacIvor’s clever, insightful script, there is a scene of “tell, don’t show” where we essentially hear “the moral of the story”, which may have been acceptable if it hadn’t centered around dog ownership and how dogs can truly teach us how to love. While I’m sure for many pet owners this is true, and was meant more as an example than a proscription, for those audience members who are canine free, it diminished the message. One moment we’re contemplating love and acceptance, and the next we’re thinking about dog breeds. An abrupt shift, at least for this pet-free writer.
But if you can set aside these two factors, you’re left with a beautiful play that manages to keep the laughs coming amidst heartache and stress and friction. Well done to the Loudmouth Collective on a smartly directed, wonderfully performed production of a clever, bittersweet play.
The Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor is presented by Loudmouth Collective, January 15- January 24, 2016 at the Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis. Tickets are $15 or $10 with a Fringe button, at 612-643-1231 or www.loudmouthcollective.com