Brothers (Up) In Arms
Jason Hall's provocative new play "G.B.S." is making its American debut this week. "G.B.S."... What does the title mean? The very first visual the audience sees is the eye-grabbing backdrop: a dizzying array of numbers and letters of different sizes and random arrangements. When the two actors do appear on stage, they alternatingly recite about numbers, letters, anagrams, and more; their dialogue seems to go along the lines of how we all are bombarded with "too much information" in this day and age. We wonder: Just where is this going? We find out, very soon...
Meet Rich and Steve. They are brothers, but they could not be less alike, physically or personality-wise. Rich (Curran Connor), a newly-divorced mechanic, is burly, imposing, blunt-spoken, and occasionally tempestuous. Sam (Jason Jacoby), a nightclub worker now living in London, is gay, ostensibly single, slight in frame, animated, and at times a bit overwrought. Sam flies back to suburban Toronto when the family patriarch falls into a coma, having been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome-- the G.B.S. of the title. "G.B.S.", the play, is not really about Guillain-Barré Syndrome per se, but the disease is very much a secondary character who we never actually see. It lurks in the background, and it's the impetus for bringing these two brothers together for a roller coaster of a reunion. Sam, seemingly thriving in that big city across the Atlantic, hasn't seen his family in three years but feels none the poorer because of it. At one point he opines, "'Suburbia': even the word sounds inferior!" (To add insult to injury, they've banned fags [meaning, cigarettes] from all Toronto restaurants and bars since he's been gone!) Rich, in the meantime, has bore the brunt of the family crisis on top of his own issues, and seems quite embittered by it all. Even before Rich and Sam physically reunite, the lingering judgments each one has for the other cause some thick anticipatory tension. The audience knows it's gonna be a bumpy ride from the airport to the hospital. Indeed, even when Rich and Sam aren't squabbling out loud, the audience is privy to the dialogue going off in the characters' heads during their "wordless" moments ... and that banter is as lively as it gets. It's also often quite hilarious as well. In the course of their long day, a few interesting situations ensue. One of them occurs when the pair stop to change a tire, and they meet up with a high school acquaintance who has had, shall we say, very different interactions with each brother. It's one of the most amusing moments of the play. The sibling tension, the family situation as a whole, Sam's distaste for his less-than-cosmopolitan surroundings, and Rich's bad back all contribute to an explosion of a climax when the pair finally reach their destination.
With less developed characters or less talented actors, "G.B.S." could have made these two brothers into caricatures: Rich, the blue-collar goon; and Sam, the neurotic gay guy. Instead, we find it hard to say that one brother is "right" or "wrong" when the two fight. For example: Did Sam selfishly "abandon" his family, as Rich accuses, or did he just flee to London from what he perceived as a miserable situation for his own personal survival? That's just one of the many likely post-theater musings the audience will likely leave with. "G.B.S." features an astonishing amount of power and emotion for a two-character play on a minimalist set. It's a credit to Jason Hall's script, the cast, and Director Jay Rohloff that the play packs such a wallop.
"G.B.S." is presented by The Clockwork Theatre and is playing through April 10th at The Kirk @ Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues. For more info, showtimes, and tickets, visit www.http://www.TheClockworkTheatre.org