Dog, Caselli, and Lepard steal hearts in “The Best Bros.”
Pets have the power to change lives. It’s a simple revelation, one that isn’t news to most people who own cats or dogs or ferrets or birds. There is an exchange of love, care, and devotion that changes people, even when the animal may be more work than it seems worth.
We never see Enzo, the dog that features heavily in “The Best Brothers” by David MacIvor at Williamston Theatre, but we hear about him a lot, from the time Bunny Best’s sons get together to write her obit to a late walk in the park where the greyhound is off humping his girlfriend. He becomes the catalyst for the mother and the brothers.
We meet the brothers while they are at work and we instantly see the differences and similarities in their personalities. They are then informed that their mother has died in a freak accident that Hamilton, the older brother, is eager to blame on someone – anyone. Kyle seems more at peace with her death, taking it in stride with none of the anger his brother experiences.
Together they try to make all the arrangements that are necessary after the death of a family member and the sparks fly between them from the very start. Each approaches things differently and Hamilton is frustrated that his brother doesn’t do things properly.
What makes this a special treat is that the artists involved in this production have an intense connection and are convincing as brothers. John Lepard, the theater’s executive director, plays Hamilton and Tony Caselli, the theater’s artistic director, makes his return to the stage after last year’s illness as Kyle.
Lepard plays the controlled anger well. He seethes at Kyle and pours out his anger at Enzo, the dog he is ready to blame for the death of his mother and a series of other tragedies and mishaps. He also goes through a lovely transformation as he and Caselli take turns playing the mother watching from the afterlife. His voice and movements soften and he portrays an elderly woman without ever making a mockery of her or going for cheap laughs from the cross-gender performance.
Caselli infuses Kyle with an energy that is fun to watch, but he also gives him deeper moments where he is insightful and says just the thing needed to reach his brother. He is most hilarious in the reception line at his mother’s visitation next to his solemnly nodding brother, he is sparkling and charismatic, completely disregarding the morbidity of the situation.
Directed by Lynn Lammers, “The Best Brothers” runs without an intermission and the transitions between scenes are carefully managed by Shannon T. Schweitzer’s lighting design and the simple moving of curtains and furniture on Amber Marisa Cook’s white set. The back wall is adorned with empty white picture frames, allowing the audience to fill in pictures of a life while easily moving between locations with simple changes. Schweitzer’s lighting also helps as she casts reflections on the stage floor creating various rooms in the church.
There is a lot of love in this play, love that makes it difficult for the characters to say goodbye. Perhaps one of the more beautiful themes in the play is about how sometimes we love someone harder because they need it more. The things that make them hard to deal with – such as a dog that chews up furniture or pees where it shouldn’t – is what gives us more incentive to love. And when it comes to people who don’t act as they should, the lesson becomes even more clear.
Lammers makes sure that the wisdom of this play shines through all of the laughter and humor. She treats the poignant moments with a light touch, giving them an even greater effect. “The Best Brothers” works on levels both artistic and technical, but more importantly, it touches the heart and reminds us of all the reasons we have to love each other.
For my son and I, opening night was particularly heart-touching. We left a sick cat at home to go to the show, a cat who had been our family cat for nine years and was my son’s special friend. While we were at the opening night reception, that cat passed away, held in my husband’s arms the whole time. We came home to say our goodbyes, share our memories, and conduct our own version of a funeral with the words from “The Best Brothers” still echoing in our hearts and minds. These pets of ours, these animals that share our home and make things messy for us, they are our hearts.