Kill Me Nowby Brad Fraser. Directed by John Sowle.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"They always want something from you."
Steven Patterson and Samuel Hoeksema; photo: John Sowle
Brad Fraser’s play "Kill Me Now" is not about a family with problems, nor is it about masturbation, XXY Syndrome, wives with benefits, euthanasia, juvenile delinquents, sassy sisters, Canadian hockey, single fathers, spinal stenosis, or baths. Each of these elements comprises a pocket in the garment that is this play. Each of these elements has its moments alongside smoking pot and drinking Canadian Club whiskey. What this play is about, actually, is how these widely different aspects of the lives of two men affects the love they feel for one another.
This is okay love, not gay, not lascivious, but the love of a father and son, each for the other, during a difficult time in their lives. Jake Sturdy is the sole caregiver for his badly disabled son Joey. Jake’s sister Twyla is Jake’s only source of in-house relief during those times when she can put in an appearance and baby-sit so that Jake can go out and play hockey with his friends for an evening. Hockey, in reality, is the code-word for sex with Robyn, his mistress, a married woman who was once his literature student. And then there’s Rowdy, a juvenile delinquent living in a group home, who has an unsavory relationship with Joey, is used by Jake as day-care assistant, and who fancies Twyla, an older woman in his eyes who needs a younger man.
They all live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Theatrically this is a safe distance for us in the eastern part of the United States. These five fascinating people cannot affect us at all. That’s what we think during the opening scenes of this play, but we couldn’t be further from the truth. These people and their plights affect us deeply for several reasons.
First, the play is brilliantly constructed and the characters are remarkably alive and close to us in the intimate space that is the Cross Street Theater Center in Hudson, NY where the Kaliyuga Arts are presenting the American debut of this play.
Secondly, the people feel so genuine and real and the realities of their existence can be hard to appreciate, hard to take. After five minutes of this play it is impossible to believe that Joey is an actor who doesn’t look, talk or feel like this character. Twenty minutes later when Jake begins his long, difficult transition into a man we do not know it is hard to understand that an actor, compressing time, can suffer in such a way. Thirty minutes further in we begin to see who Robyn actually is and why she means so much to Jake when our first impressions have been about their sexual relationship and not much else. A few minutes later it is Rowdy who can be seen in a different light, and Twyla also. This play gives its characters their depths and then cannot possibly plumb them sufficiently, but at least the work tries to tell us more than we thought we’d ever know.
Finally, it is a show whose characters in their extraordinary situations can move us to tears even as we laugh at a clever line, or sigh at a soft, sweet gesture, or choke over a decision. This is a powerful stage-work with a dark message about the way love can take us into dangerous places and leave us there to fend for ourselves.
In a long summer/autumn season with many insightful and moving new plays and musicals this one is a standout piece of theater with a long future. It can travel anywhere and stand with the best. It is a play I didn’t expect to see, went to on a spur-of-the-moment chance and would have kicked myself if I hadn’t experienced it.
Topping the list of superb performances is Jake Sturdy as played by Steven Patterson. This is a strong man brought low by love and loss and Patterson plays each and every nuance of change with an engrossing and involving directness. He takes at least three falls to the stage floor and each time he does there is more drama and less dramatics about it. Sometimes a gun shot in a play physically startles an audience, and these falls are the gunshots in this play. Patterson has a true genius for portraying the inner deterioration of a man’s spirit with equal intensity to his picture of a man physically losing the battle for strength and life. This is a truly extraordinary performance.
As his son Joey, Samuel Hoeksema begins the play curled up in his father’s arms, stark naked and anticipating the pain of cleanliness. He ends the evening in the next-best thing to mourning as he skips his high school graduation in order to take charge of his ailing father, an exchange of bathing favors really. In between Hoeksema takes us on an adventure of comprehension like no other I’ve witnessed. While I regret, always, the short run of a grand play I am thrilled that this wonderfully talented actor will not have to spend too much more time playing this physically challenged, extremely disabled figure. He is too good an actor to become disables himself through this marvelous workmanship.
Twyla Sturdy is played with gusto, a wonderful sense of fear and a truly honest way of communicating her own feelings by Kay Capasso. Her transition in the second half of the play is done with charm and grace and nice self-deprecating sensibility. Capasso brings this woman to crystalline life.
JD Scalzo gives us a tormented and dangerous Rowdy Akers. He plays the lack of subtlety that is Rowdy’s trademark behavior with so much honesty that you just want to reach out and shake the guy. He is a loving friend and a nasty, back stabber at the same time. Scalzo plays the lustiness and the loneliness in this young man with equal interpretive strength. It’s a very nice performance of an unsavory man.
Robyn Dartona, mistress and friend, is smartly played by Molly Parker-Myers who is the only regionally located member of the acting company. Watching her face as she tries to understand what has happened to her lover, and watching her body language as she attempts to make sense of what his son is doing or saying is as good as a year in acting school trying to learn communications skills. This is an extremely talented actress creating a complex role that needs to seem simple and accessible while remaining aloof and alert to distant sounds and sights.
Director John Sowle has done a remarkable job with his hard, difficult, emotionally packed play. His set designer, himself, has given him wonderful spaces to use and an unexpected way to use it. If this play needed answers this director/designer has found ways to find them. A big bravo to the stage crew for handling some complex set changes with quiet movement and invisible personnel. That was much appreciated by everyone, on-stage and off.
One more great evening in the theater, upstate and not on Broadway or Off-Broadway, local and regional and worth ten times the ticket price. This 103 minute one-act play is possibly the last must-see theater of the 2013 season (I’ve learned never to say never or definitely on this topic). If you cannot get to see this you will have missed the best chance you’ll ever have to see this play this well-performed. One more superlative here and the page will simply burn up.
JD Scalzo and Kay Capasso; photo: John Sowle
Molly Parker-Myers and Patterson; photo: John Sowle
Kill Me Now plays at the Cross Street Theater Center at 41-A Cross Street, Hudson, NY through October 13, 2013. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-822-9667 or go on line at www.stageworkhudson.org.