THUNDERSTICK by Kenneth T. Williams, directed by Glen Gould (Thunderstick Collective/Culture Storm). At Toronto Free Gallery (1277 Bloor West). See listing. Rating: NNN
They might not be kissing cousins, but Isaac and Jacob Thunderchild understand the importance and strength of blood ties. It's that closeness that knits together the seemingly disparate comic and serious elements of Kenneth T. Williams's Thunderstick.
Jacob (Brandon Oakes) is an Ottawa journalist who loves his liquor as much as his ex-wives; his cousin, Isaac (Craig Lauzon), is an international photojournalist who pursues stories as dangerous as they are newsworthy. When the two aboriginal men meet after a long separation, assigned to a story about the disappearance of a cabinet minister, Jacob's finishing off a bender he swears (yet again) he'll never repeat.
Once on the job, an episode of projectile vomiting directed at a national figure lands the two in jail, but Jacob sees a chance to redeem them both; he has this theory about a lesbian tryst involving the minister and an aboriginal leader. Pursuing the story in the wilderness, the cousins uncover more than they expect.
If that synopsis suggests that humour drives the action, you're right. For the first act, Williams has written one joke after another, a number of them intentionally groan-worthy, including some of the repeated "are so, am not" and fart variety. Lauzon and Oakes milk the lines for all they can, getting uproarious laughs from some audience members but leaving others less impressed.
Although humour and characterizations are broad for the first hour, the actors clearly enjoy their characters' banter, building a winning chemistry that makes the sometimes silly lines work.
The second act, though, under Glen Gould's direction, deepens the cousins' relationship. Without going all political or preachy, the dialogue touches on residential schools, drinking and parental neglect. The act deepens the characters as we learn why, for different reasons, Isaac and Jacob left the rez, determined never to return. These vignettes, short but powerful, give a richer feel to what starts out as a light comedy.
Andy Moro's set of newspaper strips on poles doubles nicely as bars in an Ottawa jail and trees in the freezing, wolf-roaming countryside where the cousins find themselves lost.
If you like Williams's plays, Toronto theatres are presenting what feels like a mini-festival of his works this winter. In addition to Thunderstick Collective/Culture Storm's production of Thunderstick, Native Earth's season includes two of the Saskatchewan writer's scripts. The company just closed Café Daughter and, next April, premieres his latest play, Deserters.