by Lynn on March 26, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Judith Thompson
Visual Artist, Randi Helmers
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Cast: Claire Armstrong
Yolanda Bonnell
Waawaate Fobister
Greg Gale
Stephen Joffe

A stunning production in every way, of a play that has stood the test of time and is as gripping and unsettling now as it was when it first played 36 years ago.

The Story. The Crackwalker is about four marginalized people and their efforts to eke out a place in society. Theresa is a developmentally delayed young woman who tries to find love where she can, usually in inappropriate places. We learn Theresa is supervised by a social worker and we get the sense the system here is overloaded and stretched with terrible results. Alan is a young man who loves Theresa, but he too has his mental and emotional issues. Sandy and Joe love each other in a battling way. Theirs is an abusive relationship based on sex, beer, battling and low expectations. The Crackwalker is the trickster or spirit who bedevils, haunts and embraces those characters. Judith Thompson also says, the Crackwalker is the spirit of a baby who looms over the proceedings. Both work.

The Production. Thirty-six years after writing The Crackwalker, Judith Thompson is directing it for the Factory Theatre’s, ‘naked season’—unadorned–no sets, props and fancy effects. Her production is stunning. The power of this play has not diminished over the years. Thompson’s detailed direction of this simple production puts the audience in the world of her characters.

Above the stage is a painting of a naked woman with a large red blood blob in the middle of her body. It could be symbolic of a baby—Theresa and Alan have a baby. There are cut-out shapes in primary colours on the floor arranged like a jigsaw puzzle that is not quite put together—there are spaces/cracks between pieces. It is reminiscent of an aboriginal painting of a spirit. Kudos to Randi Helmers for the art work.

Thompson stages and directs her strong, committed and compelling cast for full emotional impact.

The Crackwalker, played by Waawaate Fobister with gentle conviction, begins the play with an expressive dance full of emotion, power and symbolism. He appears all the way through, unseen by the characters but certainly they feel his presence. And he symbolically walks in between the cracks of the puzzle pieces on the floor. The scene in which he does become the baby is haunting and you will not soon forget it.

As Theresa, Yolanda Bonnell nails the voice, manner and movements of a young woman who does not have the finesse or confidence of a person who has developed properly to that age. Bonnell is awkward, petulant, flat voiced and totally convincing.

For Sandy every day is a struggle, whether it’s keeping a job or hoping her husband is true to her. But in Claire Armstrong’s illuminating performance we see Sandy’s resilience. All these characters are pray to rumour about something important to them. For Sandy, she’s not sure about her husband Joe’s truthfulness or his commitment to her because of rumours she’s heard about his sleeping around. In Armstrong’s performance there is that look of crushing uncertainty as well as resolve and anger. This performance reveals a character who will not be ground down. Sandy does the best she can.

Joe is dangerous and abusive but he is not played as a one noted bully by Greg Gale. Gale is a dandy actor who brings nuance and subtlety to Joe and perhaps a sense of uncertainty. He does love Sandy. Gale makes us believe Joe might change his violent ways for her.

Rounding out a stellar cast is Stephen Joffe as Alan. Alan might be developmentally delayed because if foetal alcohol syndrome. Whatever is the cause, Stephen Joffe plays Alan as fragile minded, caring of Theresa, loving, needy, frustrated and when overwhelmed by a world he does not understand, he becomes violent.

Comment. Judith Thompson exploded into the Canadian theatre scene with The Crackwalker in 1980. It is the unflinching, gripping story of four people, marginalized by society and its expectations.

Over those 36 years Thompson has written about characters on the outside, isolated, abandoned, overlooked, ignored and unseen, except for her perceptive sharp eye. She puts her characters right in front of us and makes us look, see and care.

We are not these people, but Thompson in her writing of the play and her direction of it makes us ache for and embrace each one of them.

See this one.

Produced by Factory Theatre.

Opened: March 24, 2016.
Closed: April 10, 2016.
Cast: 5; 3 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 2 hours.


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