Brothers In Arms: The Humour of Disappointed Expectations

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Our second show in the July One Acts is Brothers in Arms, a satire on the romantic notion of the Great Outdoors. Matthew Walsh, the director of this piece, explains the humour surrounding this show.

See the July One Acts from July 13- 22. Brothers in Arms is just one of three shows you'll see as part of this production. 

Brothers In Arms: The Humour of Disappointed Expectations

By: Matthew Walsh

Humour, according to current thinking in philosophy, comes from incongruity: the tension between what we see or hear and against what we expect.  In theatre, this plays out on a couple of levels: we find humour both in disrupting the audience’s expectations of the characters, and the characters’ expectations of each other.

In Brothers in Arms the bulk of the action is a conversation between three characters: Altrus and Dorothea, a young married couple, and Syd, a hunter in whose cabin the couple find themselves.  Much of the humour of the piece comes from the expectations the former two have of the latter, which are left largely unmet.

Altrus is a businessman, and served as a logistics officer in the recent Great War; efficiency is his watchword.  Structurally he’s the protagonist of the play: he wants something specific — to catch a train to bring him home in time to close a deal — and the entire play is the process of him attempting to achieve it.  To him, Syd is a means to an end; he’s frustrated by Syd’s seeming inability to respond usefully to his questions, and appalled by the other man’s failure to live up to Altrus’s ideals during Syd’s own career in the army.

Dorothea, by contrast, is caught up in the romance of the Great Outdoors.  She idealizes the Canadian back-country as an unspoiled wilderness and the people who live there as “fine, simple men” with noble and unfettered spirits.  For her, Syd is a symbol of “Canada and the wild”, and everything he says is filtered through this stereotype… no matter how badly it fits him.

As the dialogue (trialogue?) wends on, it seems more and more likely that neither Altrus nor Dorothea will have their expectations satisfied; the contrast between the irritation of the former and the (possibly deliberate) obliviousness of the latter creates another humorous incongruity.