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Best Brothers deliver the laughs

The best play of the 2018 season debuts tonight at Theatre Northwest. That is Best with a capital B. The Best Brothers is a belly-grabbing comedy by award winning Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor.
Ryan James Miller and Aidan De Salaiz play Kyle and Hamilton Best during rehearsal for Theatre Northwest’s production of The Best Brothers.

The best play of the 2018 season debuts tonight at Theatre Northwest.

That is Best with a capital B.

The Best Brothers is a belly-grabbing comedy by award winning Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor. It shows us inside the sibling rivalries and conflicts of two brothers who don't really share the same views on life but they have to come together for funeral arrangements when their mother unexpectedly dies, crushed by a falling drag queen named Pina Colada.

"They reunite to gain a better understanding regarding their relationship with her, each other, and the family dog," said TNW's artistic director Jack Grinhaus who called it "a play for anyone who has had a mother, brother, or dog."

"Oh, yes, my brother and I fought like cats and dogs. We were so different. But we love each other," said this play's director Sharon Bajer.

To fan the sibling fires, two brotherly actors were required. Bajer found Aidan De Salaiz and Ryan James Miller to butt heads and lash tongues at each other.

And this is almost a sibling production, since it is a co-production with Western Canada Theatre Company (WCTC) in Kamloops. They have already performed it there, several months went by where the cast and crew went off to do other theatre things, and now they are reconvening for the Prince George half of this twin delivery. It's a family reunion.

"I remember saying on closing night in Kamloops, if this was it, I would be devastated. But we knew we had another go at it," said De Salaiz. "I'm just pretty grateful to be in Prince George."

The Toronto actor said he always wanted to perform here, in all seriousness, and at WCTC too. When you're focused on having a full-time career as a professional actor, you study where the opportunities might be. He said the pro companies in P.G. and Kamloops have excellent reputations even in Canada's biggest city.

"It's all I want to do," said De Salaiz.

"That's the mentality you need, in this job. It's all contract work, most of it is short-term contracts, so you have to focus and build yourself a schedule for the year so you're working as much as you need to. You have to have a certain kind of drive, and I've been doing this for 13 years now so I think I'm decided. I just love this life, this job."

His grandmother in Ireland was the matriarch of an acting family on that side of the pond. She was proud to see the child acting De Salaiz was getting into - his first pro gig was playing Tiny Tim at 10 years old. Two years before that he was in a community production of The Music Man "and that's when I got bit by the bug."

Miller had a similar story. He grew up in Winnipeg and he also grew up with theatre.

"My parents sort of knew I was a born performer so they had me taking little theatre classes back to probably age 7," he said.

He went on to take it in university, then got busy with the fringe festival scene in Winnipeg after graduation and soon he was developing a reputation for his stage skills.

"The theatres in Winnipeg are world class, and they try hard to incorporate local actors into their professional productions, so I was working at a young age with Stratford stars and film stars, and just got a lot of opportunities thanks to that spirit of collaboration and supporting the future of the theatre industry that comes from Winnipeg," he said.

While many actors dream of ultimately becoming a director, Miller said he gets far too much joy out of embodying a character and the process of drawing a personification out of the words on a script's page. This play has been a double delight because after the Kamloops run, he gets to return to his Best brother character and try doing an even better job of finding him after the first go-round.

"It still feels new in a lot of ways," he said.

"You can look for deeper details and better connections with the other actor when you've already done the background work."

No two theatres are alike, so there is always some kinds of adaptations that must be done even if you're remounting an existing play in a new performance space.

TNW is wider of stage than WCTC, and the Prince George audience is a bit farther back than the Kamloops situation, and those differences will have an impact on the overall performance, said all three.

The connection between all audiences and these brothers is laughter. You might think a funeral is no place for guffaws and chortles, but MacIvor breaks all those rules with his hilarious script. It's a hit all over Canada and local audiences finally get their chance starting tonight at Theatre Northwest.

It runs there until April 29. Showtimes are usually 8 p.m. but 2 p.m. matinees are also available on Saturdays and Sundays.

Some performances are already sell-outs so comedy fans are encouraged to get their tickets as quickly as possible to avoid disappointment.