by Lynn on May 5, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. Written by Emil Sher. Based on the book of the same name by Marie Day. Directed by Leah Cherniak. Designed by Victoria Wallace. Sound and composition by Thomas Ryder Payne. Lighting by Glenn Davidson. Starring: John Clelland, Olaf Sham, Charles Revored-Couto, and Faeghan Williams.

Presented by Workman Arts. Opened April 28 but seen May 4, 2011.

Playwright Emile Sher doesn’t shy away from a challenging subjects. In his plays he has dealt with mercy killing in Morning Dove, the Holocaust in Hana’s Suitcase, and the difficulty of immigrants wanting to fit in but also wanting to be true to their traditions in Beneath the Banyan Tree. In all these cases he has written with sensitivity, compassion and clarity.

His most recent work is Edward the “Crazy Man” which deals with homelessness and mental illness. Edward is the local homeless person in a certain neighbourhood. He wears mis-matched clothes, pushes a beat up shopping cart full of junk and occasionally hears voices. He has a tick and a shaky right hand. The kids in the neighbourhood taunt him. The adults avoid him.

He is eventually befriended by Charlie who is twelve-years-old. At first Edward steals Charlie’s prized collection of found hubcaps, which Charlie hangs on his backyard fence. But then Edward returns them to the fence, decorated in his own particular way. That is enough to win over Charlie. He sees past the twitching, mentally unbalanced man to the human being underneath. Charlie’s mother is another matter. As a single mother she is obviously protective. She also has her own issues she is supporting—keeping a local pool opened; bike lanes and protesting some government decisions. She too is forced to look past the mental illness to see the human being beneath it all in Edward. The juxtaposition of Charlie’s mother’s noble causes and her insensitivity of Edward’s difficulty are obvious.

Edward the “Crazy Man” was workshopped a few years ago and reworked for this production. I think another go at the script would be helpful. There are hints that in his teens Edward was ‘mentally healthy’ and even university scholarship material. But then at 18-years-old he began hearing voices. He has a family. He did seek help but then stopped going to appointments and stopped taking his medication. No reason is given. We have to know. We have to know how he can go from having a loving family to being homeless. The play doesn’t tell us and it’s not the audience’s job to surmise. It’s the playwright’s job to inform and reveal. At a length of one hour, the play can stand more fleshing out of Edward’s story.

There are some awkward transitions from scene to scene in Leah Cherniak’s direction, but she has established the developing friendship of Charlie and Edward beautifully.
As Edward, John Cleland is a masterful mix of ticks, twitches, a shaking right hand, a certain awareness and clarity that results in a compelling performance. At a talk-back Cleland explained that some early drugs that were used to treat mental illness resulted in these permanent physical traits. That’s certainly something that should be noted in the play. As Charlie, Olaf Sham is initially an insensitive kid teasing Edward, until he gets close to him and sees the damaged person behind the stuff that makes people look the other way. It’s times like these that Charlie is terribly upset for Edward. Sham gives a lovely performance.

Edward the “Crazy Man” is geared towards a young audience, but it’s also important that adults see it too.

Edward the “Crazy Man” plays at Theatre Passe Muraille until May 14.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah A. Melo February 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hey its your favorite audience Sarah! I just wanted to say that day that I saw you guys performing, I almost cried of joyness! That day was on Feb 6 2012 when my class of precious blood school came. I asked alot of questions about you guys. When i’m in down town, I see alot of homeless people walking around, and talking to them selfs. That makes me think about schizophrenia. I would like to know when you guys are performing again so I can take my parents to see that wonderfull play you guys performed on that day. Well, I guess i’m almost out of room for writing so I guess this is… GOODBYE!! ; )


2 T. Taitt May 7, 2012 at 8:20 am

Hi Lynn,

I just happened upon this review and I want to say that I think it’s wonderful that you took the time to see and review a W.A. show. I worked at Workman for two years and it’s a very special place. It was wonderful to see John win a Dora for his portrayal and to have the theatre community, the majority of which don’t know anything about Workman at all, at least be exposed to the name. Hopefully it led to curiosity and more knowledge of this truly unique arts company.