Brad Fraser’s Kill Me Now, presented by Touchstone Theatre at the Firehall Arts Centre, is a serious look into the lives of a family plagued by unfortunate health conditions. It is heartfelt, touching and solidly based in its arguments. While the play’s primary message examines who holds the right to decide life or death, another layer explores the coming-of-age of a young man – a story, which regardless of disabilities involved (the central teenage character is disabled), is a beautiful representation of the circle of life.
While the script is a little rough around the edges, and there are elements that don’t sit completely well with me, Fraser’s effort to tell his story is genuine and well-intended, and the show’s cast does an excellent job in its interpretation.
The story involves a Jake, a hard-working father and widower, and his disabled 17-year-old son Joey, who due to his condition, has recently gone through a late puberty. While their situation is tough – Jake has to physically bathe Joey (among many other things), this is still a happy father and son duo. Along with Jake’s younger sister, Twyla, we see a relatively content little family.
Like all families, when a child nears high school completion there’s serious conversation about the future. However, in this case, things are a little more complicated. Given Joey’s condition, Jake doubts the possibility of ever changing their current situation, even though it will continue to limit opportunities for Jake, including really pursuing any romantic interests. On the other side of the coin, Joey, like many young adults, wants to spread his wings. Disability or not, he wants to go out in the world, and not live under the wing of his dad forever.
The lives of this family are uprooted when Jake suddenly falls victim to spinal stenosis, a compression of the spinal cord that affects the nerves. Jake’s case is very serious, and his downfall is alarmingly quick. The tables on Jake and Joey’s relationship drastically turns and the play’s message about euthanasia, which has been looming since the start of the play, suddenly takes centre stage.
This is a heavy subject indeed, and I applaud Fraser’s wonderful efforts. He’s crafted a story with a believable plot, characters and situation. However, there are a few elements that are a bit jarring or unnecessary. The show places a heavy emphasis on sex, which makes sense to a degree. Jake has a hush hush relationship with Robyn. There’s also the matter of Joey now being sexually aroused for the first-time and unable to relieve himself. There’s also a humorous relationship that develops with Twyla and Joey’s best friend, Rowdy.
All of the above is fine. However, the story places an uncomfortable emphasis on Joey needing to get help with relieving his sexual tension, when the seriousness of his father’s condition first comes to light. It’s a little far-fetched and unsettling given the circumstance. There’s also a scene where Twyla and Rowdy are smoking weed, where the humour seems awkwardly forced. Additionally, the character of Robyn seems odd. We’re led to dislike her at first, given how cold she seems towards Joey. Her excuse later, of being self-conscious about Joey’s opinion of her, is a bit of a stretch.
As the father and son team of Jake and Joey, Bob Frazer and Adam Grant Warren are exquisite. Both actors have wonderfully crafted their character arches – Frazer with Jake’s unfortunate downfall, and Warren with Joey’s development into a man. Their relationship with each other is poignant, capturing the ups and downs of a parent and child relationship. Luisa Jojic and Braiden Houle provide us with some breathing space with their portrayals of Twyla and Rowdy, whose quirky relationship is fun to watch as it develops.
Corina Akeson does an admirable job with making the character of Robyn as believable as possible, given what she has to work with. And while the way her character is written doesn’t make things easy for her, the creative team hasn’t helped matters much. Having Robyn carry around a Louis Vuitton shopping bag doesn’t exactly win her likeability points from the audience.
Director Roy Surette has done a nice job with staging this show, along with David Robert’s smart set, which revolves and allows the action to continue at a steady pace. However, some of the sound effects are unnecessary. For example, the sound of the “outdoors” seem a bit on the amateur side. Instead, it would have been nice if Adrian Muir’s lighting design adjusted to show the characters being outside instead. And there’s a bowel movement sound effect in the show that really doesn’t seem necessary. The dialogue and reactions of the characters onstage are sufficient to relate to the audience what has happened.
Overall, I really enjoyed Kill Me Now for the compelling story it tells and the stunning performances of Brad Frazer and Adam Grant Warren. Kudos to playwright Brad Fraser for addressing this serious subject matter and telling a story that showcases humanity and the bond between families.
Kill Me Now continues until October 27 at the Firehall Arts Centre. Visit the Firehall Arts Centre’s website for ticket information.