Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Best buddies

Daniel MacIvor’s new play is about a peyote-tripping mom, two brothers and a dog

Death becomes Daniel MacIvor in his new play at the Tarragon. Credit: von Tiedemann

Daniel MacIvor spent years wondering whether he should get a dog. Though the celebrated theatre artist was attracted to the routine and companionship a faithful canine would bring, it was a highly impractical lifestyle choice, given his six-day work weeks combined with extensive travel. But fellow theatre artist David Storch (who appeared in MacIvor’s play Arigato, Tokyo) gave him a tip. Storch had scored what he considered the perfect “theatre dog”: an Italian greyhound. Quiet, docile, low-shedding and requiring minimal exercise, the breed seemed like the perfect fit. After a lengthy process of internet research, Buddy came into MacIvor’s life. 

“Buddy has changed everything, really, as dogs do,” he says. “Having a dog reminds you that it’s not all about you. But he’s a great work dog. He travels well, and I can take him to theatres with me during the day.”

In addition to being an easy fit with his lifestyle, Buddy was also the indirect inspiration for MacIvor’s current play The Best Brothers. He first took on the pooch four years ago, while working on a play with dramaturge Iris Turcott. Being a first-time dog owner in his late 40s meant a vertical learning curve when it came to canine care. He would come to each of their daily meetings with a new tale of tribulation about his dog’s coprophagic tendencies or penchant for sofa destruction. 

When the Stratford Festival approached him about a new play, he was stumped for ideas and turned to Turcott. 

“Without my knowing, she was keeping notes about all these stories,” MacIvor says. “She came in with a file folder of my true-life dog stories, threw them on the table and said, ‘A play about a dog.’”

And so The Best Brothers was conceived; it premiered in the summer of 2012. The two-hander tells the story of Hamilton (MacIvor) and Kyle (John Beale), siblings who find common ground after the death of their peyote-tripping, free-loving mother, Bunny. Hamilton is a tightly wound architect with a Cordon Bleu chef for a wife who craves order in every aspect of his life. Kyle is a downtown real-estate agent who deals mostly in condos and has a much younger sex-worker boyfriend of whom neither his mother nor brother approve. 

In a quest to find a better mate for her gay son, Bunny heads to the Pride parade to scope out a gay doctors’ group. But when an intoxicated drag queen piloting a float loses control and runs Bunny over, her sons suddenly find themselves having to spend a lot of time together. They also have to battle over who will take care of their mother’s dog, Enzo; neither brother wants him.

As in many of MacIvor’s plays, the theme of death is central to The Best Brothers.

“I love the line from Six Feet Under when one of the funeral parlour clients asks Nate, ‘Why is there death?’ and he says, ‘To make life interesting,’” MacIvor says.“It’s this mysterious thing we spend our whole lives moving toward while running away from, and we know absolutely nothing about what lies on the other side of it. We make up fairy tales to explain what happens or we avoid talking about it at all. Yet it’s so very real, and it happens to everyone. And dramatically, it’s so rich. It always brings the living together when it happens in our circles.”

Despite its sombre subject matter, there’s really nothing sad about the play. With rapid-fire dialogue and one-liners piled on top of each other, the piece has a snappiness reminiscent of MacIvor’s earlier works; he sees it as a cousin to his 2002 play In On It. Though he’s been appearing onstage less in recent years, for this show he felt compelled to tread the boards again; the script was written specifically for him and Beale, though they traded roles after the first reading. 

“In a play like this, a two-hander, it’s all about the team,” he says. “It’s like a vaudeville act. There was something in my chemistry with John outside of working together that made me feel like we could be a team. We laugh a lot, and a big part of any process for me is laughter. If I’m not laughing in the rehearsal room, there’s something missing. Life’s too short.”