Brothers’ keeps it all in the family

Ryan Wenzel

It’s one thing for comedians to go onstage and make people laugh each night. But laughing about their private lives? That’s another story.

“Brothers’ Comedy,” an original play written by Communication senior Dan Sinclair, captures the distress and isolation that defines his stand-up comedian protagonists. Sinclair completed the play last winter and has brought it to the stage with the assistance of Vertigo Productions. The hour-long play runs through Saturday night at Shanley Pavilion.

At the play’s center is Doug Raskin (Communication junior Peter McNerny), an unhappy 28-year-old who waits tables by day but dreams of succeeding as a stand-up comedian like his father. His dreams are interrupted, though, when his younger brother Jeff (Communication sophomore Kevin Durnbaugh) suddenly arrives, harboring his own dream. And it sounds a lot like his brother’s. He too wants to do stand-up.

Doug gives the preposterous idea a few laughs and proposes a bet: if Doug proves himself the funnier of the two at a tryout the following day, Jeff must buy groceries. Should Jeff somehow earn more laughs at the tryout, Doug will surrender his bedroom and sleep on the couch.

The brothers’ relationship is further complicated by Doug’s girlfriend, Nora Candidish (Communication junior Bridget Moloney). In the spirit of competition, Doug puts Nora second to the jokes and, unsurprisingly, begins to isolate her. Not comprehending this shift in priorities, Nora grows angry but cannot bring herself to completely sever her relationship with Doug.

The play’s strongest and most striking quality is its skillful juxtaposition of humor and despair.

“Interspersed in every scene is a stand-up comedy routine that one of the brothers performs, that either thematically or tangentially has to do with what happens in the [rest of the] scene,” Sinclair said before a rehearsal.

Because of the contrasting comic scenes, the frustration and deep unhappiness that Sinclair sought to capture gains resonance. Another strength is Sinclair’s brave characterization. His characters are often vulnerable and complex.

“Dan Sinclair, as a playwright, doesn’t really baby or protect his characters,” says Moloney. And indeed, none of the three characters is portrayed in a particularly positive manner. The selfishness, puerility and flightiness of each become clear through the sharp dialogue.

“I don’t think that the character that I’m playing, although she’s very well-written and funny, is a particularly likeable person,” Moloney says. Fortunately, these negatives attributes do not detract from the messages or realism of the play.

Many times the characters’ actions are fueled by ire, and it’s the emotions that make each scene compelling. The cast of three does a commendable job capturing the frustrations of their characters’ situations.

And then there are those brotherly quarrels. McNerny and Durnbaugh play their roles passionately, frequently engaging in convincing fights, escalating from verbal sparring to full-scale physical brawls. Moloney is equally fiery when upset.

The play is simple in its presentation. It consists of only one act, a mere three actors grace the stage and the action is contained to an apartment living room. But the play’s unique underlying lessons make it compelling.

“It’s about comedy and what’s funny and what’s not funny,” Sinclair says. “About not throwing your life away for stupid aspirations.”