The Crackwalker written by Judith Thompson has captivated me for many years and it holds a very special place in my heart. I can’t even imagine how thrilling this unique piece of theatre must have been for an audience when it was first produced over 30 years ago. It remains a powerful and relevant piece of theatre. Set in small town Ontario, the lives of four people intersect with dramatic consequences.
Thompson’s writing is gritty, stark, bold and unapologetic as she explores the dark and tragic corners of forgotten society. These people are poor, addicted, brash and abusive but underneath they dream and hope and love each other even after ghastly acts have been committed. I knew how this play ended but I rooted for the characters anyway.
I was surprised by how much comedy was found in what I have always considered bleak and dark material. It was a refreshing take on it and allowed the more startling moments of the play to be harder hitting. In her director’s notes, Thompson mentioned that originally she intended to write a comedy and she certainly infused a great deal of levity into this telling of her piece.
A great script is half the battle in creating magic in the theatre and this is a great script. She wrote a small town accent into the piece which gives the work a unique rhythm and a surprising musicality. I come from a small town and I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of these people in my hometown. The characters are so beautifully fleshed out and maybe that is why you end up loving them so deeply in spite of their extraordinary flaws and mistakes.
Thompson directed this production on a bare stage with some audience members seated in the playing space. The script is so visceral that it seemed easy for the characters to create a world without set pieces and using only minimal props. I loved the use of the space with actors making exits and entrances through the theatre and using the edge of the stage as a playing space.
The Crackwalker cast was comprised of five fierce actors throwing it all out there on the stage. They were powerful and deep and I believed every note. Claire Armstrong as Sandy was rooted, tough and emotionally raw. Using her dynamic voice she was the ground for the other characters. Greg Gale gave Joe an unexpected sweetness and charm. Joe drinks and lives hard, beats his woman and messes around but Gale’s take had a softer edge than I expected out of the character. Stephen Joffe’s Alan was beautifully sensitive. Alan looks up to Joe and tries to emulate him but never really succeeds. Joffe was funny and compelling to watch. Waawaate Fobister plays Man. A mysterious figure that shows up throughout the show. A ghost like figure that seems to control the action at times becoming a puppeteer and at other moments bearing silent witness. I loved the use of movement and mask that Fobister’s character utilized. It gave the piece a chilling undertone. Yolanda Bonnell’s Theresa was inspired. Theresa is slow, she lies, and she turns tricks. Bonnell made her childlike, funny and entirely lovable.
I was so excited to see this production of The Crackwalker and it surpassed my expectations. Thompson’s direction was a fresh and interesting take on her own material. I highly recommend this show from one of Canada’s greatest voices.