When the people in your life think your only skill is killing, eventually you start to believe them. The events of George F. Walker’s Dead Metaphor are what comes next.
On April 6, 2016, Dead Metaphor premiered at the Firehall Arts Centre. The play centres on Dean, an ex-sniper who has recently returned from a stint in Afghanistan and is attempting to reintegrate into Canadian society. The cast consists of Dean, his pregnant ex-wife (who is soon to become his new wife), his aging parents, his career counsellor, and his counsellor’s campaigning politician wife Helen. The play explores the difficult position of a son struggling to aid his aging parents, while also tackling taboo issues through Helen, who subjugates women’s and same-sex marriage rights to achieve her own rise to power.
Throughout the show, the audience eagerly offered up enthusiastic laughter in response to Walker’s witty comedic writing. Unfortunately, however, some opening night hiccups detracted from the otherwise strong performances. Important tensions, such as Dean’s psychological state post-combat, did not feel fully developed, and many relevant lines fell flat.
While nervousness characterized the first act, the actors seemed calmer after the intermission. Meghan Gardiner delivered the strongest performance as Helen, a deplorable dictator-type who the audience immediately loved to hate. Alec Willows also impressed as Dean’s unwell father Hank. Hank’s degrading health and subsequent lack of inhibition made for some of the play’s funniest scenes. Finally, Jovanni Sy expertly portrayed one of the play’s most interesting characters, Oliver, as he grappled with his position as a career counsellor and the demands of his domineering wife Helen.
The absurdity that results when Dean’s sniper past confronts the people in his civilian life defined the second act. The multi-purpose set contributed effectively to the humourous chaos that ensued; actors circled the set to cover long distances, and dramatic goodbyes over the phone took place even as characters stood side-by-side. The final scene of the play redefined the boundaries of the set, and left the audience giddily unsettled. At least in part due to the shakiness of opening night, however, the cliffhanger ending left some of the audience unsatisfied.
Thanks to some strong performances and clever writing, Dead Metaphor sustained the audience’s attention for the duration of the play. Hopefully with improved line delivery and memorization, the show will demonstrate its full potential in the days to come.
Dead Metaphor runs from April 2 to 23, 2016, at the Firehall Arts Centre. For tickets and information, visit firehallartscentre.ca.