Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Playwright, Judith Thompson, directs the Factory Theatre’s haunting production of her own play “The Crackwalker”. Originally produced in 1980, this is Thompson’s first play, inspired by a mask-making class she took in theatre school; and by her summer job working for the Ministry of Community and Social Services in Kingston. It is the final play in the Factory Theatre’s current season, “Naked: Canadian Classics Reimagined.”
The actors portray the kind of characters who often fall through society’s cracks – the people who appear in newspaper headlines but with whom most of us have no real contact. Photo by Michael Joseph
Thompson gives these people a voice, demonstrates their resilience and love, and explores their hardships. The soul of a dead baby “hovers over the play”, she tells us in the program notes – literally, in a painting above the stage and figuratively, in the story-line itself. A mysterious Man appears on stage first, beautifully played by Anishinaabe actor/dancer Waawaate Fobister. He seems beyond time and place, like a Native spirit-guide, who takes on various roles. His movements and chants embody the nightmarish despair of the characters & their world. He also depicts other characters & scenic elements…toward the end, offering the possibility of redemption.
This expressionistic element contrasts with the more naturalistic dialogue of two couples: Theresa (Yolanda Bonnell) and Alan (Stephen Joffe) and their friends Sandy (Claire Armstrong) and Joe (Greg Gale). Thompson has an ear for the way people talk as they struggle with outer and inner circumstances. Bonnell gives a deeply moving performance as Theresa, the “slow” (mentally-challenged), overweight, essentially good-hearted young woman, who fills her emotional holes with doughnuts and sex. She loves and wants to protect her baby, but these instincts are over-ridden by her own weaknesses, and by the increasingly desperate, erratic behaviour of her boyfriend.
Joffe ably depicts Alan’s transition from a boy infatuated with Theresa, seeing her as a Madonna, to a young man in the grip of tortured thoughts. Sandy and Joe, whose lives are a bit more stable, reveal the complex bond that holds a couple together despite violence. Sandy tries to escape Joe’s anger but is pulled back by their mutual need. Gale is frighteningly effective in portraying Joe’s abrupt violence, which masks a sense of inadequacy. Armstrong’s Sandy reveals an engaging common sense ability to survive, and fierce loyalty to Theresa and Alan, even in tragic circumstances.
The two-act play has an episodic structure; the narrative line emerges gradually. I liked the visual effects in the production, created by Erin Gerofsky’s costumes; Randi Helmers’ visual arts; and Kaileigh Krysztofiak’s dramatic lighting. The stage is bare, except for a floor-painting that embodies Aboriginal themes, and the painting overhead, which reflects the changing moods.
I haven’t seen this play before, though I have admired several of Thompson’s other works, and I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into its riveting world. I was puzzled; however, by the seating of 15 audience members on stage, behind the actors. Were they meant to be witnesses to the action, or simply part of the audience? The Crackwalker continues at the Factory Theatre until April 10th.