Wrestling with love, laughs, and agony

ARTS Di­rec­tor Roy Surette and his cast dive into the con­tro­ver­sial the­atri­cal ter­ri­tory of Kill Me Now Janet Smith

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - By

Dis­abil­ity, the right to die, and raw sex­u­al­ity: these are just some of the ex­tremely loaded is­sues Cana­dian play­wright Brad Fraser plies in un­flinch­ing de­tail

Kill Me Now. in

And just as Fraser is no stranger to con­tro­versy, Van­cou­ver’s Touch­stone Theatre is no stranger to Fraser. For 30 years, the com­pany has boldly tack­led the well-known theatre artist’s work,

Wolf Boy Uniden­ti­fied from in 1982 to Hu­man Re­mains and the True Na­ture of Love True Love Lies

in 1991 and in 2011. Di­rec­tor Roy Surette, who him­self has cir­cled back to helm the com­pany af­ter a two-decade ab­sence, liked the idea of loop­ing back to Fraser.

“One of my ear­li­est plays when I came here was see­ing Touch­stone and [di­rec­tor] John Cooper’s won­der­ful pro­duc­tion

Wolf Boy. of That was what made me ex­cited about work­ing here,” re­calls Surette, who went on to lead Touch­stone from 1985 to 1997. So he didn’t

Kill hes­i­tate to pick up a copy of Fraser’s

Me Now

at a book sale in Mon­treal a few years ago, when Surette was there as artis­tic di­rec­tor of Cen­taur Theatre. “I didn’t know much about it. I knew he was usu­ally provoca­tive and sen­sa­tional, but usu­ally pretty in­ter­est­ing. I found char­ac­ters here that were a lit­tle older, a lit­tle wiser. And I found it kind of dev­as­tat­ing.”

Kill Me Now

cen­tres on a sin­gle fa­ther, Jake, strug­gling to raise Joey, his 17-year-old son, who lives with a se­vere phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity that’s com­pli­cat­ing his sex­ual awak­en­ing. Jake’s sud­den spinal con­di­tion throws his care­tak­ing du­ties into cri­sis, forc­ing the mis­fits who sur­round them (in­clud­ing Joey’s men­tally chal­lenged buddy Rowdy and Jake’s mis­tress Robyn) to pull to­gether in sup­port. Fraser couches it all in his dis­tinct mix of taboo hu­mour and heart­felt com­pas­sion.

“It deals with lots of dif­fer­ent is­sues that are del­i­cate in lots of dif­fer­ent ways, and dra­mat­i­cally there are some twists,” Surette says. “This is dif­fer­ent peo­ple be­ing asked to step up and help peo­ple in need—peo­ple who are iso­lated and forced to be­come a tight fam­ily.”

Among the chal­lenges of the play is cast­ing the char­ac­ter of the son. Dur­ing Kill Me Now’s

widely praised pro­duc­tion at Lon­don’s Park Theatre, some crit­ics com­plained about the use of a per­son who was not liv­ing with a dis­abil­ity in the role. (In in­ter­views, Fraser has hinted that the play, which de­buted in Ed­mon­ton five years ago, was driven by his own ex­pe­ri­ences of hav­ing a nephew with a se­vere dis­abil­ity and by his own suf­fer­ing with a spinal con­di­tion.) For his part, Surette knew im­me­di­ately upon read­ing the work that he would want to cast it with some­one who lived with the same chal­lenges.

“It was hard to know if that could hap­pen. The play is writ­ten very filmi­cally in 25 scenes with quick changes— scenes in bath­rooms and kitchens and out­side in the park. And quick changes can be hard when you’re op­er­at­ing in a wheel­chair,” Surette ex­plains. “I was be­ing cau­tious. Then I very hap­pily found Adam Grant War­ren,” he says of the lo­cal ac­tor who’s made an im­pres­sion in

Creeps plays like Real­wheels Theatre’s and his own sear­ingly hon­est ac­count of get­ting trapped with his wheel­chair in a

Last Train In

U.K. sta­tion in at last year’s re­volver Fes­ti­val. “He’s older than the char­ac­ter, but he’s boy­ish. He lives with cere­bral palsy, though to a much lesser de­gree than the char­ac­ter.”

With equally strong cast­mates—bob Frazer plays the fa­ther, and Luisa Jo­jic is Joey’s aunt, Co­rina Ake­son is Jake’s se­cret lover, and Braiden Houle is Rowdy— War­ren has brought im­por­tant in­sight to the re­hearsal process, Surette says.

“In the course of the play, the fa­ther and son’s re­la­tion­ship is re­ally in­tense,” Surette says, ex­plain­ing that in some ways Jake over­pro­tects Joey. “Adam talked about that is­sue, how it is for a per­son liv­ing with dis­abil­ity to be cod­dled. He wasn’t. He was given his in­de­pen­dence early on, but he cer­tainly has ex­pe­ri­ence to tell us about peo­ple in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.”

Surette has spent long hours with the cast in read­ings, work­ing through the re­la­tion­ships in this har­row­ingly in­ti­mate play. He ad­mits it’s been emo­tion­ally in­tense, but be­cause of Fraser’s gift for black com­edy, there’s been laugh­ter too.

It’s brought Surette to think that Fraser, who is com­ing to town for the open­ing, has penned his most pow­er­ful

Kill Me Now. work with

“There is hu­mour laced through the whole thing, and that’s where the artistry of the play kind of sneaks up on you,” he ex­plains. “I think what makes the play so pos­i­tive and mov­ing is it’s about peo­ple step­ping up to bring their love into a sit­u­a­tion that is dev­as­tat­ing. I feel the big­ness of the heart of this pounds louder in this play.”

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