By Ciara LaVelle
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By Kat Bein
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By Travis Cohen
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Tucked away in a makeshift set in the inner sanctum of the Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall, two siblings are quarreling. They're grown men, but you wouldn't know it from the scene: Well-worn boxes containing Pictionary, Jenga, Yahtzee, and other games rest on a tower next to a bunk bed. Dangling plush animals symbolize stunted childhood.
A dorm-room desk, a suitcase, and the requisite beanbag chair fill out the space. When the play moves to its permanent home next week in the Arsht's Carnival Studio Theater, a waterless bathtub will stand at the edge of the living room, adding a touch of important eccentricity.
Visitors to Miami Lakes' Alliance Theatre Lab might recognize this arrangement of adolescent accouterments: It's the set design for Brothers Beckett, a world-premiere play that ran at Alliance's Main Street Playhouse in spring 2011. Charting a tumultuous week in the lives of the Beckett brothers, their love interests, and their futures, the play received three Carbonell nominations and is remembered as one of the best new works of that year.
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"It's a Peter Pan story," says the show's playwright and ensemble cast member, David Sirois. "It's about two Peter Pans in a codependent sibling relationship who effectively destroy each other's other relationships."
One Beckett brother is Kevin, a Yale alumnus and aspiring playwright awaiting a visit from his out-of-town girlfriend, named Tuesday. The other is Sirois's Brad, with whom he shares a bunk bed, genes, a set of friends, and seemingly little else. Personalities clash, relationships are altered, and the show's good humor gradually grows into a series of emotionally affecting character studies.
One of the attendees during the show's run in Miami Lakes was Scott Shiller, executive vice president at the Arsht Center.
"One night in the lobby, Scott came up to me and said, 'I really enjoyed the show. This really speaks to a particular demographic that I want to get in touch with and bring to the Arsht Center. Let's talk about getting it done,'" Sirois recalls. "It was one of those things where you go, yeah, sure, OK. It's like when someone says, 'Great show. How'd you learn all those lines?' But that was a really nice compliment."
As Shiller remembers it: "Immediately what I thought was that David had done an amazing job of capturing the voice of his generation. I feel the play is quick and snappy and sharp and feels much more like a television script than what audiences are used to seeing on the live theatrical stage."
For Sirois, the fantasy of producing Brothers Beckett at the Arsht officially became a reality last June, when the play was slated as part of the venue's 2012-13 Theatre Up Close season, placing Alliance in good company with productions from Zoetic Stage and the House Theatre of Chicago. To suggest that this remounting is a big deal for the small company is an understatement: With the apparatus of a large performing arts center behind it, Alliance is working with publicists and full dressing rooms for the first time, and it estimates the number of presale tickets alone for this Brothers Beckett have already outnumbered the entirety of its 2011 ticket sales.
The team's responsibilities also included a couple of fundraisers — a play reading in a pizza shop and a bowling night — to corral the necessary dough to mount this production. These events, in turn, brought further attention to the show.
"Our outreach is tens of thousands of people, as opposed to 500 or 600," says Mark Della Ventura, who plays Doug, the production's hilarious comic relief. Della Ventura received a Carbonell nomination for the part as the brothers' third-wheel best friend, and his goofy performance made for a real discovery in the South Florida acting community. "Doug is a little more defined than the gay Indian I played in Cannibal! The Musical," he says, referring to his professional ensemble debut at Davie's Promethean Theatre in 2009. "David, in rehearsals and even after we opened, was like, 'You're really good in this.' I said, 'I'm just coming out doing poop jokes and being silly!' Then with the Carbonell nomination, I was in shock."
"The way the role is written, it's supposed to be a surprise," Sirois says. "You're not supposed to go, 'Oh, Doug is the big moral compass of the play.' The structure I like to use as a playwright is you get them laughing first, and underneath, you don't realize you're getting all this great stuff until I bring it more to the surface. That's what Doug's character is, and I knew Mark could do that. He makes you laugh and laugh, and then before you know it, he's teaching you something as well."
Della Ventura and Sirois, who are best friends in real life and fellow Broward College graduates, are the only cast members from the show's original run who are reprising their roles. The rest of the ensemble members — Ashley Price, Julie Daniels, and Gabe Hammad — bring different sensibilities to their parts, and that presents its own set of exciting challenges.
"I could remember a lot of the old choices, and sometimes Gabe will throw in a choice, and it'll make me laugh," Sirois says. "I'll go, 'Wow, that was more of a throwaway the last time we did it.' Or you'll find darkness in a line that was intended to be funny. It's awesome to see both."