In the darkness, the sound of waves splashing in a lake is heard, followed soon by the call of a loon. The lights then come up on a ratty-looking bathtub downstage center, a black mechanical wheelchair just to its right. Upstage of the tub, Jake Sturdy (Steven Patterson) holds his teenage son Joey (Samuel Hoeksema) in his arms, his son all long legs and gnarled hands and arms. Jake wears a bathrobe; Joey is naked. Father lowers his disabled son into the water, asking if it is too hot, too cold, deep enough. Jake’s back aches when he rises, and he lets Joey splash for a moment in the tub alone.
In the last scene Jake is in the tub. Joey is dressed for his high school graduation, sitting in his wheelchair just to the right of the tub again. Joey gives Jake his bottle of pain meds and Jake empties the bottle into his mouth, washes the pills down with a glass of Canadian Club whiskey. “Pills, booze, and a full tub—sounds like a recipe for disaster” Jake says. The audience laughs. Father and son say good-bye. The lights fade to black, and the sound of waves splashing in a lake is heard again, but not the loon.
The 89 minutes between the opening and closing sound cues show Canadian playwright Brad Fraser at his best in the U.S. premiere of Kill Me Now. As with Fraser’s True Love Lies earlier in the summer, Kaliyuga Arts brought a challenging playwright to an unsuspecting audience, taking difficult characters and subject matter head on in plays not likely to be seen in the region elsewhere. Kill Me Now is the best of Fraser’s plays, as frank and cruelly honest as the others, but more humorously humane. Though the subject matter is rugged and cutting, Kill Me Now is accessible to audiences in ways the other plays by Fraser were not.
Or as accessible as a play whose central character, Jake, asks his Tuesday evening married lover, Robyn Dartona (Molly Parker-Myers), “Am I a terrible parent because I can’t masturbate my disabled son?” can be. Fraser pulls no punches, though he may have his characters pull a dick or two. The uncle of a disabled nephew, Fraser has stated, “Our society is so horrified by sex already, so to think of disabled people having sex really blows some people’s minds.” In the first scene Joey gets an erection, and when his father tells him there are special aides who could take of this or machines, Joey exclaims, “I don’t want some machine on my dick!”
Fraser plays ruthless with his radical honesty about the disabled: Joey’s only friend is Rowdy Akers (JD Scalzo), who immediately tells everyone he’s brain damaged even as he rubs against them while shaking hands during introductions or strokes himself exclaiming how well-hung he is: “Mildly retarded and well-hung, not many can resist,” Rowdy tells Twyla Sturdy (Kay Capasso), Jake’s sister and Joey’s indulgent aunt, who ultimately can’t resist.
Needs are needs. Kaliyuga Arts director John Sowles services the play with an excellent cast again; each performer brings the same focus, energy, and believability. To call this “ensemble acting” would be to slight each actor’s achievement, but to not have had actors of equal talent would have been to slight Kill Me Now. Director Sowles once again does double duty, and his economical set design serves both director and playwright well. As Sowles tells the audience just before the first blackout, “I want you all to spread the word that we’re a good theater company that does interesting stuff.”