‘The Best Brothers’ Offers Laughs in Lowell (3.5 Stars)

‘The Best Brothers’ – Written by Daniel McIvor; Directed by Charles Towers; Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell through February 1.

Within the first five minutes of the East Coast premiere of ‘The Best Brothers’, brothers Hamilton (Michael Canavan) and Kyle (Bill Kux) reveal themselves to be such temperamentally different people that it’s a wonder they’re from the same family. From discrete parts of the stage, architect and control freak Hamilton and realtor and emotionally messy Kyle learn, through phone calls, that their mother Bunny has been killed in a freak accident involving a fat drag queen and a gay pride parade float. Bunny is all they have, due to their father’s philandering and subsequent remarriage to a trollop named Candy. Now Hamilton and Kyle have to iron out the details of Bunny’s wake, funeral, and estate, including the care of her dog, Enzo. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For anyone who’s ever had a difficult relationship with a sibling, this play will speak to you. Hamilton is uptight, and married to a woman we never see – apparently he doesn’t, either – named Jules. Kyle is gay, and loosely involved with – what else? – a male prostitute named Gordon. They can’t agree on anything, from serving food at the wake to how to respond to sympathy cards. As with most sibling rivalry, it’s all about competing for parental love. The character of Bunny, played tenderly and separately by both actors donning long white gloves and a red hat, admits that she has the softer spot for Kyle, as he seems to need it more.

Which makes sense with the character of Hamilton and his relentless desire to keep things contained – he has so much more to prove than his brother, who allows himself the luxury of living in the moment. What doesn’t make sense is how Hamilton’s annoyance with his brother changes three quarters of the way through the play, and he seeks out his company, even encouraging him to set up housekeeping with the male prostitute boyfriend (something I would not recommend to either of my siblings). Presumably Hamilton’s time with Enzo, Bunny’s uncontrollable and willful dog, has something to do with his new attitude, but I am guessing here. What starts out to be a play about siblings and old hurts turns into a play about the healing powers of a dog, and while that’s nice, in the scheme of things, I just didn’t buy it.

That said, Michael Canavan and Bill Kux are a joy to watch. Canavan is a good straight man to Kux’s antics, and his disdain for his younger brother is palpable even as he’s trying to keep it in check. Kux is hysterical as Kyle. His manages to be both lovable and annoying at the same time; you don’t know whether to hug him or swat him. With a running time of 90 minutes and no intermission, these actors have their work cut out for them. They were seamless from start to finish. For more info, go to: http://www.mrt.org/