In the month of December, many theaters program the old reliables — holiday shows that promise weary shoppers familiar forms of Christmas cheer. But that’s not what’s happening at Ensemble Theatre Company. On December 4-21, Daniel MacIvor’s hit comedy The Best Brothers makes its United States debut right here at the New Vic. The two-person show picks up the story of brothers Hamilton (Michael Polak) and Kyle (Kasey Mahaffy) in the immediate aftermath of their mother’s death. It seems she was crushed by a falling drag queen while attending a gay pride parade, and her sons have a lot to do, much of which will be familiar to anyone who has gone through the process of planning a funeral, closing a house, and resolving an estate in the aftermath of a parent’s death. The fact that the men haven’t seen each other much in recent years means there’s also lots of contrasting personalities; Kyle is gay and has a penchant for pursuing inappropriate partners, while Hamilton needs a lot of order in his life.
Brian Shnipper, who is directing The Best Brothers, has become a regular visitor to Ensemble with three great shows to his credit in recent years, including Opus and Bell, Book & Candle over at the Alhecama and Red at the New Vic. “As soon as I read this script, I completely identified with it and loved it,” Shnipper said, following a rehearsal last week. He went on to describe the show as one that “feels very current for a couple of reasons. First, the gay theme is handled in a way that’s bright, funny, and contemporary, and second, although it starts out as a familiar comedy of sibling rivalry, it takes a turn toward something darker and richer. When I reached the end, I found myself really touched by it.”
One particular item in the mother’s will causes more consternation than all the others put together, and that’s her Italian greyhound. The question of how this bequest will be resolved takes center stage as the story unfolds. Perhaps the dog represents the need for companionship, or maybe it’s just an excuse to express some of the grief the men are feeling. Either way, deciding what to do with mom’s pup becomes a big deal. Playwright MacIvor has an ear for witty one-upmanship and a gift for slightly surreal, visionary monologues, and both these talents are on full display in The Best Brothers.
For tickets and information, call (805) 965-5400 x109 or visit etcsb.org.