Kill Me Now is intense, sometimes difficult, and alive

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      By Brad Fraser. Directed by Roy Surette. A Touchstone Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Friday, October 19. Continues until October 27 

      Jake has been bathing his son Joey for 17 years. Joey (Adam Grant Warren) has a severe disability. He uses an electric wheelchair to get around and needs 24-hour assistance in his daily life. Jake (Bob Frazer) is a widower and a onetime novelist who's barely coping. Jake's only respites from caregiving are Tuesday-night dalliances with the married Robyn (Corina Akeson).

      This is the world we enter in Brad Fraser's Kill Me Now. The usual challenges of adolescence—self-image, grooming, erections—are all the more difficult for Joey. He's inexpertly assisted by his friend Rowdy (Braiden Houle), who has the best of intentions, despite being, by his own admission, "mildly retarded and well-hung”.

      Everyone's life suddenly gets even more complicated when Jake himself is afflicted with a debilitating disease.

      It's a complex, energetic show, but the performers rise to the challenge. Frazer is at the centre of the maelstrom, and his Jake is all stoicism and gallows humour. He and Akeson have a lovely chemistry, as they fail to negotiate their peculiar relationship.

      The playing space at the Firehall Arts Centre has always felt a little awkward. It's very deep, making the stage more of a square than a conventional rectangle. Set designer David Roberts managed this with a series of large rolling set pieces. Most prominent among these is what's called a revolve. It's a kind of merry-go-round whose spokes suggest the rooms of Jake and Joey's drab apartment—a bathtub, a bed, and a fridge and kitchen cabinets. I marvelled at the piece's design, as one performer can rotate the revolve, even when another actor is lying in the bed or reclined in the bathtub.

      In preparing to review this show, I reread Fraser's preface to his 1994 play Poor Superman. In it, he asserts that in Canadian theatre, "action and narrative have been sacrificed for character, metaphor and debate." Instead, he advocates for "a theatre that speaks the vocabulary I use day to day”.

      Adam Grant Warren and Braiden Houle.

      And, indeed, Kill Me Now reflects this ethos. It's very pacey—full of short scenes and plot. It's 105 minutes long with no intermission. The lack of an interval is intentional, I suspect, to maintain the relentlessness of the experience. Besides the occasional cathartic laugh, there's no break for the audience from the show's intensity. It is, as my British friend sometimes says, "hard yards”.

      Like other Fraser plays, Kill Me Now is, literally, quite visceral. It's concerned with our bodily fluids—shit and blood and semen. So you might need to steel yourself before the curtain rises. But trust me, it's a timely, boundary-pushing show that deserves your attention.