Liver: Kat Sandler wields a viciously comic scalpel
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Radey Barrack
The most important thing to know about Liver is that it only runs for two weekends so you should get tickets fast. Playwright/director Kat Sandler (Rock, Sucker,Delicacy, Cockfight) churns out plays at an alarming pace but when they are as much fun and of as high quality as Liver, one wishes Toronto would support a longer run.
Liver is hilarious, smart and casually audacious. Sandler takes an outrageously improbable premise, resurrection from the dead, and spins it into a rapidly escalating melodrama before the audience has even a second to question the basic implausibility. Death, aging, alcoholism, the ethics of sacrificing an individual for the common good, and the horrors/benefits of medical research, are all examined, prodded and mined for laughs. Sandler uses a comic scalpel as a shiv to simultaneously wound, provoke and douse with healing laughter.
But even the most clever dramedy is nothing without a cast that can deliver rapidfire dialogue peppered with one-liners while also creating believable real characters. No matter how farcical or intensely dramatic Liver becomes, the cast rises to the occasion and, with impeccable timing, spins the words and action on to the next scene. Not only did the audience laugh helplessly but there were also several shocked silences and two different sets of startled screams.
Katelyn McCulloch is sassy/sexy with an unexpected depth; Michael Musi splutters with impotent hipster outrage but has a knack for detonating punchlines; Sean Sullivan is all zeal, zest and reservoirs of untapped evil; and Claire Armstrong navigates a maelstrom of emotions and moods without a false step and in reward is gifted with one of the funniest lines, "Maybe hell is just your ex being immortal." As the liverless protagonist around whom the proceedings nominally revolve, Shaun Benson manages to be simultaneously appealing and repellent with a sexy and scarred shirtless ease. These characters drop topical satirical references constantly and their reality makes the big issue debates and somewhat sci-fi plot more realistic than the evening news.
Sandler is having a well-deserved moment in the spotlight and Liver is better than it needed to be in order to add lustre to her reputation. The ending may be abrupt and more ambiguous than enlightening - Liver just sort of stops as if it had run out of time - but the raucous ride of getting there is well worth the trip. The twists and turns are never as expected, even if the unexpected is Sandler's stock in trade, and the laughs and thought-provoking ideas are consistent. That is also Sandler's stock in trade.