SUNDAY FATHER by Adam Pettle, directed by David Storch, with Jordan Pettle, Ari Cohen and Liisa Repo-Martell. Presented by CanStage at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Previews begin Monday (January 6), opens January 9 for a limited run, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$49. 416-368-3110.
playwright adam pettle has been sticking pretty close to the sib thing. And for audiences, that's been a good thing. His breakaway success, Zadie's Shoes, twice a hit in Toronto, starred brother Jordan Pettle as a chronic gambler juggling paternal anxiety, an ill partner and an inability to stay away from the racetrack.
Pettle's latest, Sunday Father -- commissioned by CanStage and Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre -- also features Jordan as one of two brothers (Ari Cohen is the other) facing crises of family and faith that cut across generational lines.
But Pettle quickly dismisses narrative parallels to the Pettle brothers' real lives.
"The autobiographical question comes up a lot," he admits -- his earliest play, Therac 25, was inspired in part by his bout with cancer -- "but Sunday Father is my least factual play."
As they have throughout their lives, sportswriter Jed and lawyer Alan turn to each other when trouble hits. Jed's having problems with his partner, Amy, and is concerned about his young son, while Alan needs support he's not getting from his business-associate father.
"No question there are parallels between these guys' relationship and my connection with Jord," says Pettle. "We're intimate and close, we can kibitz with and take the piss out of each other. We share a shorthand way of communicating and a sense of humour."
There's an endearing quality to the playwright, a warmth that comes across even in a telephone interview. His emotions are never far from the surface, and he channels those feelings into comically insecure characters who have audiences nodding with recognition.
Pettle also has a great ear for dialogue.
"The humour is total and conscious," he confesses. "It's a vital tool for me both as a writer and as a human being. I start a lot of scenes and plays by trying to crack myself up. Those episodes are inevitably tossed out, but they give me a big push.
"The humour is also an important survival mechanism for my characters. It helps to undercut emotion that's too much to handle, and also takes the edge off cloying sentiment."
Only a few years apart in age, characters Alan and Jed have a history that binds them closer than some brothers. Their parents' divorce when the boys were young turns them into orphans who cling to each other in part because of the shared hurt. Their once-a-week time with their father provides the play's title.
"Over the course of the play, Jed and Alan move from a childlike relationship to the start of what may be an adult relationship. In the family dynamic, either with parent or sibling, that's hard to do. But it's a theme that keeps showing up in my work."