KILL ME NOW is the kind of play that wins awards. The kind of play that deserves to win awards. I’ve seen it twice so far, because after the first time I saw it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s written and directed by Brad Fraser (5@50, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love / Love and Human Remains, some episodes of Queer as Folk/North America, etc). If you’ve ever seen or read anything of his, you know to expect blunt, funny, tough, affectionate portrayals of people dealing with hard issues, and possibly naked men.
The Workshop West production of Kill Me Now is the world premiere of the play. It’s playing until September 22nd at L’UniThéâtre in La Cité Francophone, which is becoming one of my favorite venues in town, with a large flat stage, good acoustics, and comfortable seats on risers and wrap-around balconies.
The main characters are a father and son, played by Dave Horak and Mat Hulshof. I don’t think I’ve seen Dave Horak on stage before, but I’ve seen plays he directed, including Fatboy (the Ubu Roi-inspired farce at Fringe 2012) and Bombitty of Errors (the rap version of Comedy of Errors at Fringe 2013). I saw Mathew Hulshof most recently in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Jake, the dad, seems like an ordinary likeable middle-aged guy, coping as a widowed single parent to Joey, a disabled 17 year old. The other characters are Twyla, Jake’s younger sister (Melissa Thingelstad, who I remember from An Accident and Fatboy), Joey’s school friend Rowdy (Patrick Lundeen), and Robyn (“with a Y”) (Linda Grass) a long-time lover who meets Jake once a week but isn’t otherwise involved with his life.
At the start of the play, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to understand Joey’s slurred speech and I was uncomfortable looking at the actor’s portrayal of his limited mobility and awkward posture. But I don’t know how much of this was very clever acting and directing, and how much of it was that he really wasn’t hard to understand once I got more used to him. I wasn’t even aware of the gradual change until we saw Robyn meeting him for the first time, being embarrassed by failing to understand him. Robyn is so obviously trying to gamely continue the conversation while hiding that she has no idea what he said, and at the same time talking to him like he’s deaf, stupid, and childish. In both performances that I saw, the audience gasped in exasperation with her and sympathy with Joey at that point, so I guess that like me, they were all understanding him just fine and appreciating him too.
I thought that Dave Horak and Mathew Hulshof were both amazing in their roles. Mat Hulshof readily expresses the wide range of a 17-year-old’s emotions within the limited palette of his character’s physical limitations. Dave Horak’s character starts out settled within the fragile balance of the life he’s built for himself and Joey, but unprepared for Joey’s growing need for independence and autonomy, and then everything goes wrong and he has to change his plans and ask for more help.
The two women’s roles were more straightforward, but still not obvious. I didn’t like Robyn at the beginning, but the way she worked to overcome her initial discomfort with Joey and the whole messy house and uncomfortable situation won me over. And I liked Melissa Thingelstad in this play more than I liked her in An Accident, as the young aunt who has always helped out and who is frustrated with her own life and who doesn’t always agree with her brother’s decisions.
Patrick Lundeen’s Rowdy was a charmingly earnest young adult who is “mildly retarded, but I’m not stupid, it’s mostly Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, eh?” He was a valuable comic relief, but I did not feel like his portrayal was mean-spirited or stereotypical.
Parts of the story were excruciatingly intimate. And while they made me squirm, I did not feel like any of them were gratuitous. They brought the audience into acknowledging that people who love each other can do awkward and hard things when they need to take care of each other, which is probably the theme of the play.
In the writer’s notes in the program, Brad Fraser explains that he has a family member who is severely disabled, and that he wanted to portray the complexities of everyday life and emotional response for a disabled person. As far as I can tell, the actors Mathew Hulshof and Patrick Lundeen are not disabled themselves. And I think I should leave it to people with personal experience of living with disability to comment on whether their portrayals are appropriate and respectful.
In his opening-night welcome words, Workshop West artistic director Michael Clark encouraged people to tweet about the show and tell their friends about it, but not to give away any plot points in their tweets, because the show is better when encountered without expectations. I’m not sure that’s completely true because I still found it provocative, moving, amusing, and fascinating the second time through, but I’ve tried to respect the spirit of that request in this post anyway. I liked it as much as I liked Let the Light of Day Through last year, and that one won the 2013 Stirling Award for Outstanding Production of a Play. Tickets for the remainder of the run are available through Tix on the Square and at the door. And you might see me there again.