Patti Wenzel

‘Bunk Bed Brothers’ equals nostalgia, fun

By - Oct 10th, 2009 07:34 am
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“The Other Guy” Chris Tarjan (Tom) and Milwaukee’s own John McGivern (Mark) star in the Off-Broadway play “Bunk Bed Brothers” at Vogel Hall. Photos by Mark Frohna.

What happens when two adult siblings return home and have to share their childhood room? A mix of humor, nostalgia and poignant memories — or simply, Bunk Bed Brothers.

Mark and Tom Archer (portrayed by John McGivern and “the other guy,” Chris Tarjan, respectively) are forced to spend a weekend in their 1970s-era bedroom. McGivern’s character Mark, the neat and intelligent brother, has a lingering fear of the room’s closet – but not all “closets.” Tarjan’s Tom has lived life on charm and scams, always refusing to accept adult responsibilities and realities. Throughout the two-hour play, these polar opposites relive the fun and games and petty fights and traumas of childhood — and adulthood.

Bunk Bed Brothers was co-written by Pat Hazell and Matt Goldman — both masters of observation and situational humor. They honed their skills working on TV hits like Seinfeld and The Ellen Show. Their Bunk Bed script ably captured the bickering, snarky style of adult brothers who revert to the immaturity of their middle-school years.

Some of the funniest moments are even better due to the improvisational skills of McGivern, and especially Tarjan. At one point when Tom (Tarjan) prepared to play Herb Alpert’s classic album, Whipped Cream, the music started prior to the needle touching the vinyl. Planned or not, Tarjan milked the moment, giving the audience even more opportunity to howl.

When Mark and Tom plugged in a classic rock tumbler, the toy failed to operate. McGivern’s Mark quickly called the toy a piece of shit, while Tom grabbed the tumbler and noticed that it was really a manual toy. Eventually, the machine came life, which startled McGivern and gave him another opportunity to ad lib.

bunkbed2But the biggest laughs came when Tarjan possibly flubbed his line. Pulling a child’s NASA Halloween costume from the closet, Tarjan’s Tom said that Mark would name his expected child Neil … after Neal Diamond (instead of Armstrong). McGivern lost his composure and, after struggling through giggles, he asked Tarjan for clarification. Tarjan deadpanned that singer Neil Diamond always wanted to be an astronaut.

The audience will never know if these moments were planned by the writers but it doesn’t matter; they filled the hall with laughter and smiles as everyone traveled down memory lane.

The set captured the childhood room of two boys who grew up in the ’70s. NFL bed sheets adorned the bunk beds; an iconic Farrah Fawcett poster hung in the closet; and stolen street signs decorated the walls. Stacks of childhood games, a toothpick ship and a lava lamp filled the shelves (and reminded me of my son’s room).

While the majority of the play was upbeat and full of laughs, the mood turned somber and introspective when Mark and Tom learned of their dad’s serious health condition. Tom then realized that he’d need to grow up and take more responsibility for himself; and Mark offered to help and admitted his own admiration for his brother.

Bunk Bed Brothers, which was directed by Hazell and produced by Sweetwood Productions, runs through Nov. 15 at the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. Showtimes and ticket information can be found at the Marcus Center website or by calling: 414-273-7206.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Theater

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