Choke, Against the Wall Theatre’s second full-length production, is a black comedy about different kinds of paralyses.
The first kind is hilariously depicted by Edmonton playwright Cathleen Rootseart through a pair of slacker brothers in her play.
The characters Greg and Dylan are self-described “dickweed” underachievers. More specifically, they are video-game-playing couch potatoes who are paralyzed by passivity.
Greg, who is in his early 30s, has held the same temporary grocery store job for more than a decade and is in a go-nowhere relationship.
Dylan, a late 20-something, can’t summon up the courage or energy to date real girls, so he trolls the Internet for “girlfriends” who live as far away as Korea.
The cause of the brothers’ lethargy becomes apparent with the introduction of their mom. The well-meaning 57-year-old is a classic enabler, who does all of the cooking and cleaning in the household, as well as her sons’ laundry.
While the family has clearly been in the same dysfunctional holding pattern for years, fate turns the tables by the second act of the play, which opens on Thursday at the Scott Block theatre.
The boys’ mother has a stroke that leaves her helpless and uncommunicative, with her right side paralyzed. And the plot turns on whether her two perpetually adolescent sons can turn themselves into caregivers.
It’s certainly a challenge that the brothers approach in different ways, said the play’s director, Jenna Goldade. “When their mom has a stroke they will have to decide what to do with her. Their roles become reversed as she becomes dependent on them.”
After Dylan convinces Greg to keep their disabled mother at home, the brothers begin to realize the depth of their commitment. “They have to do everything for her, like taking her to the bathroom, helping her eat and dress,” said Goldade, who was attracted to Rootseart’s play because it’s a story about the things people are willing to do out of love.
“It’s a beautiful story of hope and how we rely on people, and how we are sometimes able to give up on ourselves to care for somebody else.”
Goldade believes Rootseart has scripted three fantastic roles.
Veteran actor and Red Deer College Theatre Studies instructor Tanya Ryga will tackle the most challenging one — the debilitated mother who’s unintentionally keeping her children from becoming adults.
“The mother just wants the best for her sons. She doesn’t want to push them. She supports and cares for them and just wants them to be happy,” said Goldade.
Older brother Greg will be played by local actor Paul Sutherland, who was in several Ignition Theatre productions.
Younger brother Dylan will be portrayed by Steve Charlton, a Vancouver-based Red Deer College Theatre Studies and Motion Picture Arts alum who just finished acting in a film shot in Edmonton.
“All three are extremely talented,” said Goldade, who has enjoyed working with a smaller cast after directing last season’s sprawling play, Suburbia.
So far, she believes the biggest challenge with Choke has been trying to really understand where the three characters are coming from.
“I want to be able to tell the story realistically, not downplaying or up-playing anything. I want to be true to the script and the situation the family is in.”
The Against the Wall Theatre production runs at 8 p.m. on Nov. 4 to 7 and Nov. 9 to 13. Tickets are $18 ($15 students/seniors) at the door, or can be reserved through email@example.com. Tuesday, Nov. 9, is a pay-what-you-can night, with all proceeds going to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.