“So – what do you see yourself doing in five years?”
It’s a standard job interview question. But for Army veteran Dean Trusk, the central character in George F. Walker’s “Dead Metaphor,” the answer is anything but typical.
Trained as a sniper, Dean was valuable in America’s most recent war. Now, after two tours of duty, he’s been home for five months, and his particular skill set only makes prospective employers nervous.
Walker’s edgy comedy, now in its world premiere at the American Conservatory Theater, makes Dean’s answer to the question unexpectedly funny. He’d like to write greeting cards, he explains to Oliver, the interviewer assigned to his case. But shedding his military identity won’t be easy.
Dean’s stuck in more ways than one. His wife, Jenny, divorced him when he re-enlisted, but took him back when he came home. Now she’s pregnant, and they’re living with his parents, Hank and Frannie.
Hank’s dying of a brain tumor – and he wants Dean to put him out of his misery before his medical bills burn up the family’s savings.
When Dean is offered a job working for Oliver’s wife, Helen, it seems the perfect solution. Helen’s a politician running for national office, and Dean’s status as a veteran is a plus for her campaign.
But Helen – whose prim suits and glib sound bites conceal the heart of a modern-day Lady Macbeth – will do anything to win. When her dirty tricks come to light, she expects Dean to neutralize her enemies – including Oliver, who’s fed up with her hypocrisy, and their lesbian-environmentalist daughter, whose politics are diametrically opposed to Helen’s.
It’s a fast-moving show, and director Irene Lewis delivers it in a streamlined staging. Christopher Barreca’s turntable set, with pinpoint lighting by Alexander V. Nichols and sound by Cliff Caruthers, facilitates the shifts between government offices, restaurants, public spaces and the family’s back yard. Lydia Tanji’s crisp costumes define the characters.
George Hampe, in his ACT debut, is superb in the role of Dean; Rebekah Brockman plays Jenny with an appealingly hostile edge. Anthony Fusco’s exasperated Oliver and Rene Augesen’s vengeful Helen are ideally matched, as are Tom Bloom’s loose-cannon Hank and Sharon Lockwood’s sympathetic Frannie.
Walker ratchets up the tension with issues of gun violence, assisted suicide and the politics of post-war life.
To his credit, though, the playwright never lets his themes derail the comedy. “Dead Metaphor” is dead serious, but it’s still seriously funny.