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Best Brothers a renewal of sibling fun

I dropped the ball cap perched on my knee. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, and spring finally felt like it was a real possibility.
Ryan James Miller, left, and Aidan deSalaiz are the stars of The Best Brothers, now on stage at Theatre Northwest.

I dropped the ball cap perched on my knee.

It was a warm Sunday afternoon, and spring finally felt like it was a real possibility. Maybe staying outside was a better idea, but I'd done some yard work and played some catch with the kids, and I was in the mood for a laugh. Sunshine is a great spring pick-me-up but so is a laugh-out-loud comedy and that's what Theatre NorthWest has on stage right now. It opened on Friday and by the Sunday matinee I attended, most seats were full. Word travels fast and laughter travels faster.

This play keeps the belly bouncing, but the heart beats like a drum to keep up. There's love, sentiment, even a bit of betrayal. It's a package of emotions, a stew of feelings, but it never forgets to be funny.

Remember that famous Barenaked Ladies line "I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral. Can't understand what I mean? You soon will" and that day comes sooner if you attend The Best Brothers. This story is all about a mother who died a little when her kids moved out, but also learned to live anew; then she died literally in a horrible incident involving a drag queen, but it happened at a colourful parade, so in a way she was living it up when Ms. Pia Colada fell off her float.

It then fell to her two sons to arrange the funeral.

It would be wrong to describe these young men as estranged, but they are certainly separate from one another. Their differences are mirror images. For the cascade of family similarities they share, Kyle and Hamilton Best sure found ways to walk different paths.

All along the way, as their surname symbolically screams, they eye each other suspiciously about which one mom loved best. Now that she is gone, that silence turns outspoken and that suspicion turns into accusation.

But for all the sibling hostility, the script never lets us lose sight of their foundational love.

They are characters who remind you of the great sibling acts of comedy: The Smothers Brothers, Simon & Simon, even a touch of Laurel & Hardy and some Bert & Ernie. One is the jester and one is the straight-man. Sometimes they flip those roles, but that's the unpredictability of family.

If this play has a theme underneath the funny sadness of the two mirrored brothers, it is that reflection, that 180 degree inversion between life forces. It never explores the most over-examined duality: good versus evil. Instead it's chaos versus order, human calculation versus animal instinct. And there is even a dog in the action to make no mistake of this point.

It also spends time on the debris field where those dualities collide.

There isn't much funny about love/hate, there is constant humour in the shared territory of loneliness/laughter. We are shown that these two do not hate each other, they are uncomfortable with themselves and with each other, which is much more fun to explore.

The two men who present us Kyle and Hamilton are brothers of the theatre craft, at the very least. Aidan deSalaiz and Ryan James Miller have a sense of mutual knowing that takes us almost instantly into the suspension of disbelief every actor needs for a successful show. Perhaps their intuitive performances come from having done this before. They each had these same roles when this version of The Best Brothers ran in Kamloops. They are so used to the parts by now that they can operate on instinct now. When one is talking, we can see the other's nonverbal responses tumbling back with the familiarity of someone they've each known for years.

In hockey, that brand of skill is called "being good without the puck." It means you aren't a step behind because you're too busy trying to read the play. When you are so mentally attuned to the flow of things, you can be a step ahead. These two actors are so far ahead in knowing their characters that they don't have to think anymore about who they are, they just inhale the script and exhale the feelings behind the words. They are beyond delivering lines, they are into micro-emotions between the lines.

The set is also a functional representation of the themes of The Best Brothers. Instead of being in faux rooms representing the setting, the actors dance a few pieces of furniture around the stage to take us from place to place. The largest features of the structure around them are circles and squares stacked up on each other, like pillars. They are at once round pegs in square holes, suggestive of childhood playthings like Lego or Tinker Toys, suggestive of adult engineering geometry, and also very suggestive of the DNA string that builds them both.

These towers are hints, kids, that we adults never actually grow up. We just... grow.

Kyle and Hamilton grow into people right before our eyes, and they even grow into something that reminds us of ourselves. When it all ended, I was laughing, I was loving my family and I was cheering this clever comedy with such commitment that I jumped to my feet and dropped the ball cap perched on my knee.

So if you want to feel that spring joy with some extra gusto, consider this a behesting. You have been officially behested. It's a full scale behest.