If you’re made uncomfortable by some scenes in Kill Me Now, opening this week at the National Arts Centre, playwright Brad Fraser will be content.
“Any good play has elements that make you uncomfortable. Isn’t that the whole point of going to the theatre?’’ In fact, Fraser frequently made himself uncomfortable while writing Kill Me Now, a dark comedy about a widower named Jake Sturdy and his severely disabled teenage son Joey. Jack has given up a promising career as a writer to care for Joey, and the earth shifts for the two when an event sparks a startling role reversal.
“There were evenings when I’d finish my writing session and go have a drink and cry for an hour,” says Fraser, a self-described “queer Metis man” whose second nature is to jab, repeatedly, a pointed stick in the eye of the cultural status quo. He’s been jabbing since making his mark in 1989 with Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, and over the intervening years he’s built an international reputation with graphic shows like Poor Super Man and True Love Lies.
While some of your discomfort watching Kill Me Now will be connected to Joey’s disability, Fraser says, “I didn’t write a play about someone with a disability in mind. I wrote a play about sacrifice between two people who love each other … It’s meant to make people ask, ‘What would I do?’”
Sacrifice is one of the elements that gripped Sarah Garton Stanley, who is directing the NAC show.
“The central question of the play surrounds the sacrifices we make for love and the uncertainty about whether those sacrifices are the right ones,” she says.
Stanley says the play also examines such fraught issues as how we choose to die, whether we have the right to choose to do so and how we choose to live.
The play addresses as well the continuum that is ability and disability.
“It opens up this notion that we’re all temporarily abled,” says Stanley. “We’re all waiting for that moment where we will require the help, the care, the love of another person to help us through, and that’s where the piece becomes (universal).”
In casting Mark A. Taylor, who has cerebral palsy, in the role of Joey, Stanley made a considered move. “It was important to me to work with an actor who understood the lived experience of disability.”
Integrating people with disabilities into theatrical productions is both nuanced and a work in progress, according to Fraser.
For example, should a director cast an actor who lives with one kind of disability to play a character with another kind of disability? Should an actor with no disability at all be cast in the role?
And there are practical questions such as whether a theatre is large enough to accommodate someone with a wheelchair backstage.
As well, says Fraser, there’s the issue of quality. “The thing I worry about with all this democracy and parity and everybody gets a chance is the elevation of mediocrity to meet quotas, which I think would be a very dangerous thing.”
In the end, though, Fraser is adamant (as he tends to be) about further opening up the unwritten strictures of what we often see on stage. “That theatre doesn’t have to be about or for able-bodied white people who went to university is really important for me.”
Kill Me Now is in the National Arts Centre Studio April 25-May 6 (previews April 25 and 26; opening night, April 27). For tickets and more information: NAC box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, 1-888-991-2787, nac-cna.ca.
Main art: A scene from Kill Me Now. Photo: Dylan Hewlett