Bunk Bed Brothers
McGivern and Tarjan Shine in Pate Hazell Comedy
Pat Hazell and Matt Goldman’s Bunk Bed Brothers opened this past Friday to a packed house at the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. The man who also wrote The Wonder Bread Years, Director-co-writer Pat Hazell’s work here looks very familiar. The set is a childhood bedroom of two baby boomer brothers. It’s a big collage of pop cultural stuff that should be particularly familiar to anyone who grew-up in the late ‘60’s/ early ‘70’s. Where The Wonder Bread Years derives most of its material from the culture of the era, Bunk Bed Brothers uses it as a backdrop for a light comic story about a pair of brothers getting back together in the physical terrain of their childhood and returning to that fraternal relationship the two of them always had growing up. It’s the comedy of two grown men regressing into childhood.
The two grown men in question are Christopher Tarjan and John McGivern. The play has been done a handful of times at various places all over the country and each production is distinctly different, re-worked a bit for the actors in question. The material itself is has the kind of light comic pop one would expect out of a couple of guys who’ve written for television, but the real genius here is Pat Hazell’s direction. Hazell has put a substantial amount of trust in McGivern and Tarjan’s comic instincts. It pays off big time. There IS some pretty good comic dialogue in here, but the comedy of Bunk Bed Brothers rests in putting all the right comic elements in pace onstage and letting the situation become funny on its own. This absolutely requires that the actors in question be really good at taking advantage of the comic potential of the situations presented in the script.
The current Milwaukee production of the show has a perfect pair of comic actors with McGivern and Tarjan. The two bring two distinctly different comic elements to the stage. McGivern plays the responsible career brother with a pithy sense of humor . . . and McGivern’s delivery of the dialogue brings the character that characteristic McGivern charisma. Tarjan has an opportunity to relax and have fun in the playfully comic role of the brother who never really achieved to his full potential. It’s a really fun role and Tarjan seems to be genuinely having fun with it, which would be nothing if he weren’t so successful at delivering that sense of fun to the audience.
McGivern and Tarjan were particularly well-poised opening night . . . managing to walk gracefully through a couple of technical mishaps. Early on, Tarjan was alone onstage getting out an album to playWhipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass—the audio cuts-in over the speakers from the booth even before the needle comes down on the record. Tarjan is trying to keep his composure . . . the audience erupts with laughter. He places the needle on the album, stands up, looks directly at the audience and flashes a thumbs-up before going back into the action of the play . . . Later-on he and McGivern are trying to make an old, vintage rock tumbler toy work . . . the thing doesn’t turn on and they work their way through it brilliantly. Some time later, the thing starts running for no apparent reason—a moment which coincides with Tarjan making a reference to Neil Diamond when he really means Neal Armstrong. The comic energy ricochets through the moment. Having worked together before on a number of other plays, Tarjan and McGivern have a remarkably resilient comic inertia that’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s not terribly deep, but Bunk Bed Brothers is fun enough that its lack of depth doesn’t really seem to matter.
Bunk Bed Brothers runs now through November 15th at the Marcus Center.