Kill Me Now: death-defyingly great

This is a guest review by David Johnston *

Jake (Bob Frazer) and Joey (Adam Grant Warren) deliver killer performances (too much?) in Kill Me Now.

Kill Me Now is a play that’s smart enough to pretend to be the boring version of itself for awhile.

That’s a rather complicated compliment, so let’s break it down. We open with single father Jake Sturdy (Bob Frazer) giving teenage son Joey (Adam Grant Warren) a bath. Joey has physical disabilities but is mentally sound.

All of the opening plot points feel predictable. Joey and his dad argue about Joey’s day at school. Aunt Twyla (Luisa Jojic) shows up with a new tablet so Joey can be more independent! Jake is worried about his Joey’s independence! The sun rises in the east! Water is wet! This is, essentially, a setup for a paint-by-numbers Very Special Episode where everyone learns an important lesson about handicapped people.

This is not that story.

But Kill Me Now dares to play out predictable beats for an admirably long time. We get to know the members of Jake and Joey’s ecosystem. We learn to understand Joey’s distorted speech patterns. We see snapshots of their routine. We are lulled into security.

Understand: this is not a story about how hard it is to have a disabled son. Honestly, Joey winds up one of the most grounded characters, without ever betraying his key traits or transmuting into a mystic sage whose purpose is to fix others.

What Kill Me Now becomes is an exercise in emotional stacking: how much cosmic tragedy can a family take before snapping? Much of it falls on Jake, whose twinges of back pain eventually become a spinal stenosis diagnosis, which I suggest you avoid googling.

In fact, I’m done talking about the plot, because watching how playwright Brad Fraser forces this family to continually reformat themselves is one of the key elements. The predictability of the opening makes way for a cascading freefall. Suffice it to say: the delicate balance of the Sturdy family is severely tested.

(Side note: did they have to be called “the Sturdy family?” What a weirdly overwritten detail.)

There are other nits to pick. The exposition dumps are too aggressive in the first half, as if Fraser is eager to get to the good stuff. A few of James Coomber’s sound cues are inauthentic, particularly a climactic bodily function that winds up sounding cartoonish. And, in Braiden Houle’s performance as Joey’s best friend Rowdy, some of the diction feels overly precise.

But sweet jeepers, this production works. The heartwrenching cast members bounce off each other like emotional Koosh balls filled with razor blades. Frazer and Warren both deliver layered, deeply physical performances. Houle lands his third-act gut-punches and sells much of the comedy throughout. Jojic and Corina Akeson (whose role I am pointedly not spoiling) are luminous as two very different women who believably flip-flop between being selfless and selfish.

Most of the characters exist on this spectrum. They’re not one-dimensional; they’re flawed, they react and evolve in nonlinear ways. The whole thing is often frighteningly well-observed. Director Roy Surette has sewn this up tight.

David Roberts’s set is—and this is a compliment—fantastically ugly. The low-tech industrial revolve evokes scattered chunks of a home that haven’t so much been built as strewn haphazardly by fate. The design is both literal and non-literal, and works astoundingly well.

Kill Me Now tackles a lot of issues without ever becoming an Issue play. I barked with laughter countless times, and I had tears streaming down my face constantly for the last ten minutes. See this show.

KILL ME NOW Written by Brad Fraser. Directed by Roy Surette. Presented by Touchstone Theatre. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, October 13. Continues until October 27. Tickets.

 

* David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He is a recent graduate of Studio 58 and always appreciates the opportunity to bloviate thoughtfully about theatre and art. David is not above including a shameless plug in his bio for the upcoming season of Duggan Hill, a horror-storytelling podcast he occasionally guests on.

 

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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