Thunderstick is at the top of its game

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      By Kenneth T. Williams. Directed by Bradley Moss and Del Surjik. A Firehall Arts Centre presentation of a Persephone Theatre/Theatre Network coproduction at the Firehall Arts Centre on October 14. Continues until October 30

      If theatrical comedy were a sport, Lorne Cardinal and Craig Lauzon would be world-class athletes. Thunderstick finds this team at the top of its game.

      In Kenneth T. Williams’s script, cousins Jacob and Isaac are reunited when Isaac returns to Ottawa after more than a decade working overseas as a successful photojournalist. Hard-drinking Jacob is barely hanging on to his job as a reporter. The two team up to try to track down a missing cabinet minister, a quest that takes them to a cabin in the woods, and into the uncomfortable territory of memory.

      Williams mines original humour from the politics (Jacob is arrested for throwing up on the prime minister), but even more from his “aboriginal odd couple”—a pair who are a study in contrasts. When the play gets more serious, as it does when the two men recall their childhoods on and off the reserve, the playwright eschews sentimentality in favour of spare, vivid detail, leaving us to piece together the painful truth.

      To further challenge their acting prowess, the two actors in this production swap roles each evening. On opening night, Lauzon brought his considerable gift for physical comedy to the role of Jacob, while Cardinal played the more buttoned-down Isaac. Lauzon’s committed excess elicited countless gross-out groans from the audience in the opening scene, in which a hung-over Jacob tries to pull himself together. “You think this is the first time I’ve gone to work drunk? I’m a ’fessional,” he insists, before guzzling a revolting cocktail of Pepto-Bismol and pills.

      In the performance I saw, Cardinal took a while to find his rhythm, but by the second act, he and Lauzon were both so relaxed that they were tossing out unscripted asides and clearly delighting in every comedic morsel.

      In Marissa Kochanski’s handsome and versatile modular set (beautifully lit by Mark von Eschen), five wooden panels transform from Jacob’s apartment into a prison cell, a park, and a remote wooded area. Codirectors Bradley Moss and Del Surjik capitalize on their actors’ playfulness, giving them more opportunities to ham it up in some of the most creative—and even risqué—set changes you’ll ever see. Dave Clarke’s sound design—a crunchy, energetic mix of dance beats and sound bites from political speeches—provides a catchy score for these transitions.

      It’s a virtuosic and enormously entertaining performance. Go cheer them on.