Weddings can be chaotic, traumatic and blissfully hilarious events. None more so than the one at the centre of The Best Men, a witty new comedy from Toronto playwright and actor Bil Antoniou, debuting at Bread & Circus on Wednesday, April 6.
The play is the story of four best friends – homos Max, Leo and Parker and groom-to-be Sam – as they prepare for the big day. Everyone’s worried that their close friendship won’t survive the impending nuptials, especially since Sam’s flamboyant friends can’t stand the bride. On top of that, the bride is getting cold feet over the cold reception she’s getting from the best men. Compounding the chaos is Leo’s sudden revelation that he’s started seeing a woman, a fact he hasn’t yet let his jealous boyfriend in on.
The bride, the groom, the best men and Leo’s jealous and oblivious lovers collide the morning of the wedding, threatening to upend the big day before it begins.
All the chaos plays off the very realistic fear many of us have: that of losing a close friend who falls into a romantic relationship.
“We’ve all had friendships where the friend starts dating someone and it impacts the friendships,” says Antoniou. “People often prioritize the relationship over the friendships, which I find odd because friendships last longer and they provide more support over the longer run.”
Antoniou says he wanted to turn that situation into a hilarious comedy of manners, to offer something different to Toronto theatre audiences.
“It’s very rare in Toronto that I get to see a play that focuses on witty banter between characters and relationships that aren’t mired in some neurotic trauma,” he says. “I think people think theatre should always be on grand themes about existence. I think my play does that but not in a very obvious or melodramatic way. It’s not obsessed with being intense. It’s a multi-character ensemble piece, and it goes by very fast.”
While the 33-year-old Antoniou cites Woody Allen, Joseph Mankiewicz and Oscar Wilde as some of his key influences, The Best Men takes its cue from old-school screwball comedies and sitcoms.
“My sister and I were watching The Golden Girls and she said, ‘You realize this is your play?’” Antoniou says. “Find me a gay man who wasn’t influenced by The Golden Girls.”
One of the striking themes of the play is the fluidity of sexuality, with characters who bounce from gay to straight and vice-versa and back.
“My interest is more in terms of how we often go around categorizing people, but in the end people will do whatever their heart leads them to,” Antoniou says. “It’s interesting to me to pit people’s identity against their actual experience. I know people who’ll date a woman but still think of themselves as gay. I don’t have any definitive answers. That’s why I write about it.”
Antoniou does double duty in The Best Men, playing the bitterly sarcastic queen Max, which posed a peculiar challenge during rehearsals.
“It was difficult to memorize my lines, which is really weird,” he says. “I have all the different versions in my head and we’re performing draft 27. It’s hard to remember what the final version was to deliver.”
Helming the play is director Michael Soulard, whose earlier work Antoniou once directed. Having a prior working relationship made the process that much smoother, Antoniou says.
“If you hire a director that you trust implicitly, then it’s not hard,” he says.