George F. Walker, one of the country’s most prolific and most produced playwrights, not to mention the creator of the sadly defunct CBC drama This is Wonderland, hasn’t written a play since 2000’s controversial Heaven, and he claims he may never write one again. But that doesn’t stop him from getting produced at Factory about every year. This year, as a part of the innaugural Luminato Festival, Factory will be producing three of his East End Plays—Better Living, a remount of last year’s Escape from Happiness, its sequel, and a workshop production of Tough! with a cast of 12 multi-racial young actors.
Better Living, which opened last week, is a total, Walkerish delight. It’s the story of a family of a mother and three daughters, the father long absent, living in a rather dilapidated East Toronto home. Mother Nora seems to have lost touch with reality as she starts tunnelling under the earth to build an extension onto their house, while her daughter Mary Ann has returned home, having abandoned a baby and a marriage, her daughter Gail just hangs around all day with her loser boyfriend Junior and her other daughter Elizabeth wants to concentrate on her job as a high-powered lawyer and be rid of her family’s problems. Then, Nora’s brother Jack, an alcoholic priest of questionable ethics, informs the family that Tom, the violent, abusive father they had all been trying to forget, is returning home after many years. The rest of the play deals with the strange way he manages to, for better or worse, become a part of his family’s life again.
Clare Coulter does terrific work here as Nora, a woman completely disconnected from reality and yet surprisingly confident—often wrong, but never in doubt. Irene Poole also gives a very strong performance as warrior-like Elizabeth, who goes through a very interesting character journey.
The Walker Project is a great opportunity to see a bunch of Walker’s work in one place. His plays are very funny, sometimes very sad, but always very Torontonian.