How far will a man go to prove that he is not a wimp? How does one escape a cycle of violence, poverty, prejudice and alcoholism? What does it mean to be Canadian? Where has Canadian theatre come from and where can it go now? These were all questions that stayed with me after seeing Staged & Confused’s production of Judith Thompson’s play The Crackwalker at the Theatre Passe Muraille Back Space.
Stage & Confused Theatre Company was founded in 2002 and is dedicated to “producing compelling revivals of classic Canadian plays,” often those that haven’t been revisited since their initial production. Judith Thompson’s The Crackwalker was produced at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1980 and in many ways it stands as the epitome of “the Canadian play,” especially a play written twenty-eight years ago. This play dramatically captures the cycles often found in small Canadian communities, and confronts questions of responsibility toward the poor, uneducated, mentally ill, and this country’s Aboriginal peoples. It also toasts Tim Horton’s, and there is even snow!
What truly bring The Crackwalker to life, however, are five very strong performances and Michael Murphy’s direction. All the characters truly come alive onstage, shedding any dust that may have gathered on the story in time. Craig Pike gives an especially raw, and emotional performance as Joe, a man struggling to express himself in a world where violence denotes masculinity. Rick Jon Egan plays Alan, a sensitive fellow determined to prove his vulnerability does not make him “a fag”, with heart wrenching sincerity. The direction by Michael Murphy creates a strong sense of the dark world inhabited by these characters, and also heightens the tensions between them. Both the direction and all the performances are clear, crisp, strong and poignant.
It is certainly a worthy mandate of Stage & Confused to seek to revive Canadian works, as so often plays written in this country disappear after an initial reading, workshop or even professional production. It is my hope to see more from this company, and that Artistic Director Michael Murphy will unearth the most varied and interesting this country’s canon has to offer. While walking home along Queen Street West after the show, I wondered about the reception of Judith Thompson’s initial audience. Wouldn’t audiences in Toronto, even twenty-eight years ago, be immediately distanced from a play written about the lives of the working classes in small towns? Looking at my surroundings, however, it seems that a story about how a naïve, sensitive, young man could grow to become a violent, hysterical man without a home, is perhaps a reality not too far removed from us here in Toronto, even twenty-eight years later.
The Crackwalker plays at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Back Stage until October 11th, 2008. 16 Ryerson Avenue. Toronto, Ontario. 416 504-7529 or https://www.artsboxoffice.ca/