Theatre Inconnu is providing a rare glimpse into the lives of the destitute with their revival of The Crackwalker by celebrated Canadian playwright Judith Thompson.
Carpeted floor to ceiling and dressed up in retro logo t-shirts, The Crackwalker takes an intimate look at the lives of two down-and-out couples in Kingston, Ont., before the times of immediate cellular connection, access to instant information and education about deadly diseases like AIDS.
Their reality is one that is familiar, yet somehow disturbing; the need for love, friendship, housing and security and the money to get another smoke, drink, hit, or in this case, donut.
In fact, substitute those beers, smokes and donuts for heroine, and The Crackwalker resembles a Canadian Trainspotting.
Right from the get go, the audience is thrown into another world and another time — with it’s hair metal and hoser vernacular.
The story centres around Theresa (Melissa Blank), a mentally challenged, child-like woman with no home who loves the simple things in life like TV and sweets. Teresa’s miscreant boyfriend Alan (Joe Nicholson) is a little brighter, but no better off, as he struggles to keep a job and keep himself out of trouble.
They rely on the kindness of friends Sandy (Bronwyn Steinberg) and Joe (Julian Cervello) for a place to lay their heads at night.
As the play progresses the four characters work their way through their everyday realities and the issues that come with them; undiagnosed mental illness, domestic and sexual abuse, addiction, raising a family, abandonment and more. The result is a tragic tale that could have been both predicted and prevented — had these four people not fallen through the cracks in society.
But fear not. This play isn’t a total sob story. There are moments of comic relief interspersed throughout, especially from Theresa and Al’s naivety, often making the audience questions the roots of their laughter.
Director Graham McDonald was smart to go with an alley stage, pinning the audience on either side of a catwalk running straight into the double doors leading into Little Fernwood Hall. The result: it’s like the audience is looking into the mirror, watching the reactions on the faces of those seated across from them as part of the show.
While not part of the script, McDonald uses the cast who aren’t written into each scene as voyeurs (something he also used in Theatre Inconnu’s recent production of Simon Stephens’ Pornography) — onlookers to the train-wreck-about-to-happen, often with authentic looks of interest and enthusiasm (especially from Naomi Simpson who is outstanding in her role of Busker and various other street people) on their faces.
Each member of this five-person cast furnishes a convincing and persuasive performance, especially considering the incredibly difficult script they’re dealing with.
Julian Cervello deserves accolades for his performance, after stepping in to fill a hole in the cast just a week before opening night, and never missing a queue or fumbling a word. His Joe garnered more disdain from me than other characters who did much worse than he.
Nicholson as Alan showed a sweet simpleness that helped him literally get away with murder, and Steinberg’s Sandy was a familiar personification, showing her tough side and keeping her fragility hidden away. Blank delivers a touching and terrifying performance as Theresa, a woman who desperately needs help but chooses to settle for the status quo.
The inherent despair of these characters is summed up best by Sandy who at one point says “Being dead ain’t that different than being alive— it’s like moving to Brockville or Oshawa.”
Those looking for a real throw-back can check out the Saturday, March 10 performances when Theatre Inconnu artistic director Clayton Jevne will be taking on the role of Joe (which he played in Theatre Inconnu’s production of The Crackwalker in 1994), while Cervello is debuting his one-man show The Wyf of Bathe as part of Intrepid Theatre’s You Show. M
The Crackwalker runs March 8, 9, 10, 14, 15,16, 17 at 8 p.m.
And March 10,11, 17 at 2 pm at Little Fernwood Hall
Tickets at ticketrocket.org