Conjoined: A New Musical (Stage 13, Servus Theatre, La Cité francophone)
By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
There’s always someone to block your sun. And, be honest, wouldn’t your heart feel lighter, your spirits rise, your life be just better without that someone weighing you down, smudging your prospects, thwarting your dreams, clouding your blue skies?
This clever, darkly funny little original rock musical by Stephen Allred and Seth Gilfillan, is about that. Unfortunately, for Pat (Josh Travnik), the someone who’s casting a perpetual shadow over him is his handsome, buff, conceited, bossy, smug twin brother Braxton (Seth Gilfillan). And worse, they’re attached, permanently. Which certainly ups the ante on sibling rivalry and the classic struggle for self-discovery.
Braxton and Pat are not a two-man democracy. The former, whose self-esteem knows no bounds, is a gung-ho achiever, a repository of up-and-at-‘em aphorisms, who makes all the decisions — when they get up, when they go to sleep, when they brush their teeth and do cross-fit. By his own admission Braxton is “popular, successful, and everyone loves me.”
Well, not quite everyone. Pat is simmering with exasperation and resentment; he was shortchanged on everything, including his name. “Look at him, look at me,” he laments in one of the show’s witty, cleverly rhymed songs. And resentment, as set forth in song, is gradually turning into murderous fantasies as Travnik conveys in a captivating junior Sweeney Todd escalation. “What if the source of all your problems just disappeared?”
How do you grow up, discover your sexuality, find love, make your own choices, when I is we? Now there’s a pronoun problem for you. Could they be separated? Braxton is devoted to the dying wishes of their mother, who was religious (“she marched against gun control,” says Pat) and prescribed eternal togetherness. Medicine offers a way out. Will ‘they’ take it?
There’s a kind of macabre hilarity to the storytelling, and the graphic way, heartfelt but amusingly unsentimental, that it twists a universal coming-of-age and relationship problem into a new shape.
The tricky bare-stage stagecraft and choreography by Allred in this Straight Edge Theatre production is ingenious. And Gilfillan and Travnik, strong singers both, are real firecrackers onstage.
The music, accompanied by a live onstage three-piece band with chops, propels the story in an accomplished and catchy mix of musical theatre-type dreamer songs (“If I were me, just me …”), pop ballads, driving rock numbers…. Conjoined is startling, smart, and fun — a brand new musical it’s exciting to find at the Fringe. You’ll leave smiling.