Paramount Theatre, through June 18
The set of Bunk Bed Brothers could be any boy's bedroom in middle-class white-bread America in the Sixties or Seventies with cultural relics from before the arrival of Nintendo and MTV. A tatty box of Lite-Brite sits at the top of a pile of board games, and posters of Farrah Fawcett, Get Smart, Bonanza, and Bruce Lee hang from the walls and doors. There's a solidified lava lamp on the bookshelf, as well as other boy toys such as a target, pennants, a stop sign, and a solar-system mobile. There's even mossy green shag carpeting. It's as if the boys left when they were 13, shut the door, and the items remained frozen in a time capsule. Despite the fact that this touching comedy caters to the "baby-boomer" generation, this play is not just for an aging audience.
Pat Hazell and Matt Goldman wrote the play about two brothers, named Pat and Matt, who reunite for their grandparent's 75th wedding anniversary. It should be noted here, if you don't know already, that Hazell and Goldman were among the first writers for Seinfeld. This show is far from "Seinfeld-esque," even though it does run the risk of relying on some generic sitcom formulations like simple plot and cookie-cutter character elements. The younger, smarter, and more successful brother, Matt, is married and expecting while the other, Pat, is an uninsured scam artist. Their quick-witted sibling rivalry is a gut-busting tug-of-war that has its roots in their long-ago battle over who got the top bunk. (Pat won.)
We're lucky to have the multitalented Hazell living in Austin and reprising his role as an older-brother wiseacre (the A-word is much too vulgar for this kind of family show). See Pat push Matt into the closet. See Pat do goofy impressions. See Pat play practical jokes intended for Matt that instead fall on their father, played by the almost always half-dressed and jocularly half-brained Clive Rosengren. The reactions of Brian Page, who plays Matt, are so true that you begin to believe he is in fact Hazell's now-wiser grown brother. The two rummage through all the brothers' artifacts and reminisce about the remnants of their youth in a tornado of games and make-believe. They slap on underwear and pretend to be underwater superheroes and choreograph movements to a sound effects record. What's more, both members of this daring duo catch everything the other throws at him, both physically and literally. They would have to be real brothers to share those wee beds.
The team at Hazell's Sweetwood Productions helped design the set and gather all those genuine articles on it that you'd be lucky to find at Uncommon Objects. It also contributed to the surprise Hollywood-style special effects and even wrangled some local talent from Austin's Pizza to deliver a pie onstage during the show.
Maybe 30 years from now, people will laugh at the absurdity of an Xbox and a poster of Finding Nemo that is, if they have the imaginations left to do so. But whatever pop-culture memories tickle us, anybody can appreciate the universality of the nostalgia in Bunk Bed Brothers, that for the love between brothers or noogies at least.
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