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Regional Reviews: Boston

The Best Brothers
Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Also see Nancy's reviews of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

Bill Kux and Michael Canavan
Merrimack Repertory Theatre is staging the East Coast premiere of Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor's comedy The Best Brothers. The two-hander features Michael Canavan (Hamilton) and Bill Kux (Kyle) as diametrically opposite brothers thrust together under the most unfortunate circumstances when their elderly mother dies in a bizarre accident. Reminiscent of an infamous episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" ("Chuckles Bites the Dust"), Bunny Best meets her demise at a gay pride parade, leaving her sons to bicker about who is to blame, the details of her obituary, what kind of sandwiches (if any) to serve at the visitation, and who should take custody of Enzo.

The Best Brothers is a love story, although not in the traditional sense. Instead of any semblance of boy meets girl, it looks at the love of the sons for their mother, her unconditional love for her dog, and the love that Hamilton and Kyle have for each other in spite of the challenges of their relationship. MacIvor provides a spot-on treatise on sibling rivalry, but throws in the complication of the brothers' jealousy of the aforementioned maternal pet. Enzo never actually appears in the play, but his aura permeates everything, in the way that a dog marks its territory, and Hamilton and Kyle jockey with him for their mother's affections, albeit posthumously.

Both Canavan and Kux give distinctive portrayals of the brothers, the former a rather buttoned-down architect with a need for order, and the latter a quirky gay realtor who prefers more color and flair in his life, and take turns conjuring up Bunny by donning long, white gloves and a red hat, to tell her side of the story. They find the humor, as well as the heart, in MacIvor's words and, despite their ongoing conflict, give us something to like about their characters. The play ebbs on occasion which I think is a consequence of the structure. It is broken into scenes which are introduced by projected titles ("The Obituary," "The Visitation," "The Eulogy," "The Condolences," "The Will"), giving it a cinematic effect, but the numerous stops and starts disrupt the flow.

Artistic Director Charles Towers directs with a feel for the intimate nature of the play, focusing on the connections that are human to human, as well as those that are human to canine. He leaves a lot to the imagination of the audience, eschewing much in the way of sets or props. Scenic designer Bill Clarke and lighting designer Dan Kotlowitz work in tandem to merely suggest Kyle's condo and Hamilton's expensive home, and Arthur Oliver's costume design shows the brothers' divergent styles. Sound designer David Remedios inserts eclectic pieces of music to underscore scene changes.

The Best Brothers neatly fits the category of slice of life plays that Merrimack Rep does well, perhaps even with one hand tied behind their backs. What gives this one some additional cachet is the pet angle as it makes the argument for the dog becoming the owner's heart and what happens with Enzo being the heart of the story. For most of the audience, that seemed to hit home; but for me, it was barking up the wrong tree.

The Best Brothers, performances through February 1, 2015, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Box Office 978-654-4678 or

Written by Daniel MacIvor, Directed by Charles Towers; Scenic Designer, Bill Clarke; Costume Designer, Arthur Oliver; Lighting Designer, Dan Kotlowitz; Sound Designer, David Remedios; Stage Manager, Casey Leigh Hagwood; Assistant Stage Manager, Peter Crewe

Cast: Michael Canavan, Bill Kux

Photo: Meghan Moore

- Nancy Grossman

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