A critic once famously said of seminal Canadian playwright Judith Thompson that it was typical of her to include a gang-rape in one of her plays when only a rape was necessary. It’s a flip and condescending remark about one of our country’s most respected playwrights; at the same time, Thompson’s plays are known for their dramatization of extremely unpleasant, if realistic, incidents. Recently, Thompson’s writing has turned political with her critically-acclaimed Palace of the End, probably the writer’s strongest work to date. But theatre company Staged and Confused are reaching way back into Thompson’s repertoire with their production of The Crackwalker, currently playing at Passe Muraille. It’s Thompson’s very first play, and it’s certainly not without its share of extremely unpleasant incidents.
Theresa is a “retarded” prostitute who goes to live with her best friends, violent and dysfunctional white trash couple Joe and Sandy. Along the way, she begins a relationship with their friend Alan. Alan is keen to settle down and start a family with Theresa, but he is haunted by a spectre-like homeless man (the play’s titular “crackwalker”) who may hold the secret to Alan’s future. Perhaps it is not necessary to say that things don’t end up going very well. There’s no gang-rape (although Joe may or may not have raped Theresa at least once before the events of the play), but there’s a famous scene involving Alan and Theresa’s unfortunate baby that’s quite disturbing.
Staged and Confused’s production of the show is really very good. Michael Murphy’s direction is capable and economical; using the Crackwalker to aid scene transitions makes a lot of sense and keeps him around as a constant presence. And the cast is very strong. Marie Jones brings a sweetness and vulnerability to the hapless Theresa that’s absolutely heartbreaking. And it’s really interesting to see Thompson’s earliest work onstage. It lacks the maturity of a piece like Palace of the End, but it also feels fresher and more authentic than some of her more convoluted mid-career plays. Seeing this show is a must for any theatre student who has watched dozens of their classmates perform the “shut up, mouth!” monologue and wanted to know what happens next.
The Crackwalker plays in the Passe Muraille Backspace until October 11.
Photo by Radey Barrack.