Walker comedy is a wild ride worth taking
George F. Walker is a Member of the Order of Canada, and a recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement; “Dead Metaphor” is an excellent example of why.
A dead metaphor is a figure of speech which has lost its original meaning due to extensive, repetitive and popular usage.
Throughout the play, Walker applies the principle of reality straying from origin in a number of ways; the politician whose true ideals are forced to blend with publicly proclaimed beliefs; the old man who can’t keep track of which feeling belongs with which memory; the soldier who is publicly lauded for his accomplishments overseas, only to realize that killing is not a transferable skill in the workforce at home.
This script is loaded, and coming in at a brisk hour and forty-five minutes including intermission, it demands the audience’s attention from start to finish.
There are a lot of moving parts to this piece, but in brief; Dean (Mike Gill) returns home from serving in the army in Iraq, a skilled sniper with no applicable skills to gain employment.
His ex-wife, Jenny (Carmela Sison), is newly pregnant with their child, so the two recommit to one another. To the chagrin of Jenny’s parents, and the delight of Dean’s they remarry. Unfortunately, Dean’s father Hank (Alec Willows) is losing his mind due to an inoperable brain tumour and it’s unclear how his mother, Frannie (Donna Spencer), will cope after he’s gone.
Family friend and employment counsellor, Oliver (Jovanni Sy), hooks Dean up with the couple’s only hope for the future; a job as the assistant to cutthroat, right-wing politician Helen (Meghan Gardiner), who is also Oliver’s wife.
We know from the get-go we are in for a wild ride. From the moment we enter the theatre, Lauchlin Johnston’s set, which includes a high end restaurant, administrative office and a backdrop of rubble, begs the audience to ask, “Where are we?’ The answer is, everywhere.
The scenes hop from place to place at a pace that feels, at times, cinematic. Thanks to the direction of Chelsea Haberlin, the audience is able to run alongside this runaway train without losing sight of where we are, and what is happening.
Walker’s script is written to be performed at breakneck speed and Haberlin demands that her actors deliver. The result is a mixed bag.
Mike Gill is a natural as Dean. His quick and dramatic shifts from aggravated cast aside war-vet to concerned and tender son are credible. Meghan Gardiner is effervescently toxic as the detestable Helen. You hate the character from start to finish, but when she’s gone you can’t wait until she’s back onstage.
Making her Vancouver debut, Carmela Sison achieves some lovely moments of depth off the top, but as the speed of the play picks up it feels a little like she’s trying to win a race, leading to a lack of depth in later scenes.
Some actors out of their depth
This piece requires a lot of emotional agility from its performers and Firehall Artistic Producer Donna Spencer and Gateway Theatre Artistic Director Jovanni Sy seem out of their depth throughout.
Alec Willows is hilariously heartbreaking as Dean’s ailing father Hank, spewing acidic and politically astute vitriol one moment then shrinking into the lost shadow of a man at the end of his life.
The bottom line
The end the play veers towards absurdity and demands the audience to get onboard and enjoy the ride. The overall strong work from the cast and Haberlin’s engaging direction make sure it’s a ride we want to take
Dead Metaphor by George F. Walker
Cast: Meghan Gardiner, Mike Gill, Carmela Sison, Donna Spencer, Jovanni Sy and Alec Willows
Production: Director Chelsea Haberlin, Lighting & Set Designer Lauchlin Johnston, Costume Designer Amy McDougall, Sound Designer Troy Slocum, Props Master Jennifer Stewart, Stage Manager Jillian Perry, Assistant Stage Manager Aidan Hammond
Running Time: 1:45, including one intermission
The Firehall Arts Centre until Saturday, April 23, 2016
Tickets from $23 at firehallartscentre.ca | 604.689.0926