There is so much going on in George F Walker’s Dead Metaphor that none of its various plot lines ever gets the attention they deserve. As a result, the whole is less than satisfying.
Having just returned from killing the Taliban as a sniper in an unnamed country’s army, the young Dean is looking to re-establish himself in the life he left behind. Agreeing to re-marry his now pregnant wife, who had divorced him while he was on the front lines, he finds a job as assistant to an ultra-right-wing politician looking to be elected. Living with his parents as he gets his life back in order, he soon discovers that his father has inoperable tumours and doesn’t have much time left for this world.
While it all sounds very dark, in true Walker fashion that darkness is peppered with laughs, as Dead Metaphor explores, and attempts to skewer, everything from PTSD, unemployment, politics, aging, and even assisted-suicide. With so many themes running through Dead Metaphor though, coupled with Walker’s blistering fast blackout scenes, we have little time to digest or connect with any of it.
Most of the laughs come from some very broadly written characters including politico Helen (Meghan Gardiner) and Dean’s father (Alec Willows). Both Gardiner and Willows embrace their respective craziness with panache, and their scenes together are blisteringly funny.
Jovanni Sy, who plays Helen’s long-suffering husband, does eventually get his due but we have to wait well into the second act for it to manifest. As Dean’s wife, Carmela Sison has a couple of seemingly out-of-place one-sided conversations with her mother on the telephone, but like Sy, when Walker pushes her to the edge in act two, she explodes with a delicious comeuppance. As Dean’s mother, Donna Spencer gets little to work with, and when given the opportunity to step over her character’s own edge during a church scene, she never quite hits the top notes.
Mike Gill does a nice job as the returning soldier, but like much of Dead Metaphor we are never given enough time with him to truly absorb his turmoil. It is a shame, as Dean’s story is probably the most compelling and worthy of further exploration.
Lauchlin Johnston’s set is a provocative and visual feast. With its large painted blue scrim (with a large orb in the centre that takes on special meaning at the end of act two), the playing area is scattered with battlefield remnants. His lighting design though casts many shadows, and as director Chelsea Haberlin has her cast wandering about the set they find themselves in and out of the light.
Some will say Walker’s ending is less than satisfying, but by the time the inevitable last scene plays out you may, like me, not really care.
Dead Metaphor by George F Walker. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. A Firehall Arts Centre production. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) until April 23. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.