Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hard-hitting Crackwalker packs a punch

Judith Thompson play tackles brutality

By Greg Burliuk
Whig-Standard Staff Writer

Any long-time Kingstonian can tell you that The Crackwalker wasn?t written yesterday. That?s because most of the local hangouts mentioned in the play are gone: The Tropicana, the Shamrock, the Manor, and Niko?s (boy, do I miss their chef?s salad plate with the great coleslaw and potato salad).

But if you?re not from here, you?d be hard-pressed to realize this was Kingston award-winning playwright Judith Thompson?s first play, written in 1980. That?s because her characters seem contemporary. And the play still packs a wallop, making you want to either take a well-scrubbed shower or go watch a Disney animated movie ? anything to get the bad taste out of your mouth and soul that watching this play gives you.

Thompson?s plays are never pleasant, but none of the other half dozen that I have seen are this visceral. The others had moments of beauty or at least poetry in the dialogue, but The Crackwalker is all brutal language and behaviour. It?s pretty relentless and Bottle Tree Productions? performance of it showcases some amazing acting to stay true to the script.

The story focuses on two couples who, in modern parlance, have issues. Sandy and Joe are the more enlightened couple, and he?s a drunken woman-beater (at least in the first act) so that gives you an idea of how low down the rung of social development we are here.

Terese is mentally challenged but also a nympho and her fellow Alan gradually reveals his own psychotic nature, after starting out to be not much more than a simple wimp.

This is not a play for those who are offended by vulgar language and even more so for those who like happy endings or light-hearted comedy. This is powerful theatre but one that as an audience member you have to pay an emotional price for.

There are riveting scenes but director Zorba Dravillas hasn?t solved a major problem in keeping up the dramatic tension. No two scenes in a row take place in the same place so Dravillas has the cast schlepping props and moving tables after emotionally trying moments. Better to have someone else do the moving and have the actors fade off-stage ghostlike.

Although it?s never explained why Terese is speaking in a West Indian accent, Talia Acker does so flawlessly. She does a terrific portrayal of a woman who?s child-like in some ways but innocently heartless in others, someone who has learned how to survive with meagre tools at her disposal.

As Alan, Peter Jensen has a whiny, nervous energetic way of talking. At first, he proclaims he will look after Terese and we applaud him even if we doubt his ability to do so. Gradually, his demons are revealed and Jensen does a great job of horrifying us.

Jude Bursten plays Sandy as a nononsense tough-talker, but someone who has a soft heart or maybe isn?t strong enough to go it alone. In some ways, hers is the most believable performance because she looks most physically the part of someone who has been beaten down in life.

Clayton Garrett plays Joe perfectly in the first act as a total pig of a man. Thompson has him give a monologue about the death of his best friend in a car accident, which is supposed to make him a little sympathetic. Later, after leaving for a job for several months, Joe returns somewhat a changed man but his character becomes less interesting.

The director plays a homeless man, who spends most of the play sprawled senseless at the front of the stage, occasionally having mumbled interaction with Alan. Dravillas did such a good job that when he wandered off stage at intermission, the audience shrank from him as if they were meeting a wino on the street. If you can stand the emotional stench, this production of The Crackwalker will impress you.


Talia Acker and Clayton Garrett star in The Crackwalker, which showcases two couples who endure abuse, poverty and alcoholism. Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard

Talia Acker and Clayton Garrett star in The Crackwalker, which showcases two couples who endure abuse, poverty and alcoholism. Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard

Terese - Talia Acker
Alan - Peter Jensen
Sandy - Jude Bursten
Joe - Clayton Garrett
Homeless Man - Zorba Dravillas

A play written by Judith Thompson.

Director - Zorba Dravillas
Stage Manager - Mark Gauthier
Set Design - Kyle White

A Bottle Tree Production now playing at the Wellington Street Theatre, corner of Wellington and Johnson streets, until April 5 with performances Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. plus matinees Saturday at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 613-530-2050.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars