Arts & Entertainment
2 min

The Best Brothers; a family affair

Daniel MacIvor’s play tackles brotherly bonds, death and a dog

Playwright Daniel MacIvor's play, The Best Brothers, was inspired by his relationship with his dog. 

Though he’s famous for fast-paced scripts, Daniel MacIvor takes things slow when it comes to life decisions. After a messy divorce left him shattered and single, he thought a dog might bring much needed structure and companionship to his life. But deciding on his canine companion was a multi-year process of debating the pros and cons. He was attracted to the routine it would bring to his erratic life. At the same time, it was highly impractical, given his six-day work-weeks and extensive travel schedule.

But then a colleague tipped him off to the perfect “theatre” dog: an Italian greyhound. 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.”

Along with being an easy lifestyle fit, Buddy served as indirect inspiration for The Best Brothers. He first took on the pooch five years ago while working on another script with dramaturge Iris Turcott. Being a first-time dog owner meant a vertical learning curve. He would come to each day’s meeting with new tales of tribulation about his pup’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.’”

First shown in 2012, the two-hander follows Hamilton (John Ng) and Kyle (Andy Massingham), siblings who find common ground after the death of their peyote-tripping, free-loving mother, Bunny. Hamilton is a tightly wound architect with a wife who craves order in every aspect of life. Kyle is a condo sales agent with a much younger, sex-worker boyfriend whom neither his mother nor brother approves of. 

In a quest to find a Kyle a better mate, Bunny heads to Pride to scope out a gay doctors’ group. But when an intoxicated drag queen piloting a float runs her over, her sons 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.

Despite its sombre subject matter, there’s really nothing sad about the play. With rapid-fire dialogue and one-liners piling on top of each other, it has snappiness reminiscent of earlier works like 2002’s In On It.

“It’s like a vaudeville act,” MacIvor says. “Whatever I’m working on, a big part of any process for me is laughter. If I’m not laughing when I’m working there’s something missing. Life’s too short.”