Dead Metaphor's darkly hilarious comedy kills

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      By George F. Walker. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. A Firehall Arts Centre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, April 6. Continues until April 23

      In this script, a Canadian soldier returns from Afghanistan, where he was a sniper. He has a hard time getting a job until he finds a way to exploit his lethal talents. This is a comedy. It works. 

      In Act 1 of George F. Walker’s 2013 script, it’s hard to identify what the story is about, but Act 2 comes into focus worthy of a sharpshooter. The humour is darkly hilarious throughout, and the characters—as written, and mostly as performed in this Firehall Arts Centre production—are irresistibly eccentric.

      Dean, the young vet, is feeling extra pressure to get a job because his wife, Jenny, is pregnant. When he goes to see Oliver, a career counsellor, Oliver lands him a gig as an assistant to his spouse, Helen, a right-wing politician.

      Meghan Gardiner, who plays Helen, knocks it out of the park. Somebody give her an award. Right now. Comedy is all about dedication to illogic, and Gardiner commits every cell of her being to Helen’s Machiavellian lunacy. When Oliver pitches Dean for the job as her flunky, he notes that it would look good to have a vet on-staff. Helen replies: “That would be easier to sell if he had lost a limb or something.” Everything about this performance—the burnished appearance, killer timing, and lethal soullessness—is perfect.

      Alec Willows is also some kind of wonderful as Hank, Dean’s lefty dad, whose mind is rapidly being swallowed by a brain tumour. Willows has a whiplash, smartass delivery that makes even the simplest line work. Talking about his barbecue, Hank says, “It’s amazing how things rot away when you don’t give a shit.” With that sentence, Willows brings the house down.

      Playing Hank’s wife, Frannie, Donna Spencer is the only weak link in the cast. Her deliberate delivery doesn’t work for this material.

      Fortunately, Jovanni Sy hits the right notes as the nerdy but increasingly desperate Oliver. Begging Helen to quit politics and run away to Europe, he gets the play’s best line: “You can study art and the lyric poets. In a year or two, you’ll be fully human again.”

      In a no-nonsense, on-the-money performance, Carmela Sison plays Jenny, Dean’s wife. And, at the centre of the whole thing, there’s Mike Gill as the soldier. Gill gets all of the comedy out of Dean’s doglike straightforwardness, and all of the depth out of the conflict that lurks underneath it.

      In his excellent set, Lauchlin Johnston places furniture amid war rubble. And Johnston’s lighting combines to powerful effect with Troy Slocum’s sound. Chelsea Haberlin is a director on a roll these days: with Doost and Gruesome Playground Injuries, she has opened three shows in just over two weeks. In terms of overall vision and execution, this one is prime.

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