By Betsy Labiner
Gianbari Deebom as Amanda, Czarina Nafarrate as Megan, Zac Austin as Trevor, Andy Johnson as Liv, and Allison Akmajian as Katie photo credit to Ryan Fagan
“Gianbari Deebom positively shines as Amanda, the leader of the plot to protect Megan. Deebom carries the bulk of the emotional storytelling, and is utterly compelling in everything from ineffectual attempts at distraction, desperate determination, and righteous fury.”
Killed a Man (Joking) is a raucous rollercoaster of a play that’s not going to be for everyone, but if you’re into dark comedy and can stomach themes of domestic violence, coercion, psychological abuse, and manipulation, I encourage you to treat yourself to the current Etcetera show at Live Theatre Workshop.
This production of Beth Hyland’s Killed a Man (Joking) is directed by Gabriella de Brequet, who brings years of theatrical experience to her staging. De Brequet’s set, props, and costumes were all smartly simple, creating a shuttered restaurant and its panicky staff with no unnecessary ado. Everything onstage was incorporated into the action, and the use of the wings for additional unseen spaces worked well in the theatre of the mind. The story follows three coworkers who become entangled in a murder committed by a fourth coworker — but that murder might have been an accident or self-defense, so they’re going to have to get their story straight if they want to keep their friend out of prison.
Gianbari Deebom positively shines as Amanda, the leader of the plot to protect Megan. Deebom carries the bulk of the emotional storytelling, and is utterly compelling in everything from ineffectual attempts at distraction, desperate determination, and righteous fury. Her comedic moments are more wry and deadpan than Katie’s (played by Allison Akmajian), but plenty of her lines, such as her grudging admission that she may have “scooched” the body — her word for having moved a corpse all the way from the dining area to the walk-in freezer — had myself and the rest of the audience positively cracking up. Akmajian’s comedic work was delightful as well; she is unafraid to lean into her character’s ridiculousness, but manages to do so without reducing her to a caricature. Liv (played by Andy Johnson) is comparatively less engaging than Amanda and Katie, but Johnson holds their own with the others. They bring a frazzled energy to the play, capturing the tension between wanting absolutely no part of the cover-up and feeling obligated to help.
Czarina Nafarrate and Zac Austin (as the Megan, the murderer, and Trevor, the victim, respectively) have significantly less stage time than their castmates, but give searing performances in the last portion of the play. The audience knows all along that how Trevor ended up dead is hardly the simple story being concocted by the coworkers, but Nafarrate and Austin’s scene reveals all in its ugly, cruel, and complicated truth. Nafarrate navigates tough emotional spaces here, giving us a nuanced depiction of a terrified victim of abuse and blackmail. Austin’s Trevor is smarmy and self-assured, absolutely convinced of his own power and willing to stoop to any level to get his way. Austin’s lightning-fast shift from lolling and laughing to shouting and grabbing Nafarrate was genuinely frightening, and I heard more than one sharp gasp around me when he did so.
There is a deeply odd juxtaposition of moods in the final moments, which for me felt like a jolting expulsion from the intensity Austin and Nafarrate had built, but it certainly left me pondering notions of guilt and justice.
This play begins as dark workplace comedy and ends as an exploration of domestic abuse, and incorporates commentary on policing and racism, drug use, and more along the way. Parts of this play are difficult to watch, particularly if you have experienced abuse, manipulation, or gaslighting, but I recommend it, with the caveat of first assessing whether those themes will be triggering for you.
Killed a Man (Joking) runs for one more weekend at Live Theatre Workshop. Showtimes are November 18-19 at 10:00pm, and November 20 at 7:00pm. To make your reservation call 520-327-4242 or buy tickets online at livetheatreworkshop.org.