The Crackwalker - Theatre Review

By: Paul Lewkowicz

The Crackwalker, written and directed by Judith Thompson, tells a powerful story of characters Theresa and Alan, and Sandy and Joe, as they live a life of poverty, abuse, and addiction in Kingston, Ontario. Throughout the play, the demons and challenges faced by the two couples is shadowed and met by a mysterious man known as the The Crackwalker.

The cast delivers strong and powerful performances. Yolanda Bonnell did a masterful job of portraying Theresa, a young and innocent woman who is cheerful and positive despite being subject to constant insults about her weight, sexual activity, and learning disability. Stephen Joffe plays the character of Alan (Al), a young man who looks up to the older Joe and who is a follower desperately seeking to fit in. Greg Gale portrays Joe, a tough guy addicted to alcohol and persistently looking for work while regularly parading around with the mayor of Kingston. He relishes telling stories of music and bars that are dear to his heart.

Waawaate Fobister portrays The Crackwalker, a man who appears as the voice and tells the stories of the four characters through dance. In the background is the mysterious Bonnie Cain, the town gossiper who spreads numerous rumours about the promiscuousness and mistakes of the Theresa, Joe, Al and Sandy.

The play has many key themes that haunt the characters and draws emotion from the audience. Theresa and Al are so innocent and desperate to fit in and to be accepted by others. They constantly worry about what Joe and Bonnie Cain think, despite the fact that these individuals have hardly been good to them. Theresa is so easy to please, as she leaves her troubled home and seeks a better place to stay. This results in her being taken advantage of and a quick marriage and pregnancy that have tragic consequences. The theme of sexual assault and abusive relationships confront Theresa and Sandy. Their stories of pain, abuse, denial, anger, submission, and a desire for happiness are painful reminders of the tragic situations that many individuals constantly face, particularly women.

Bonnell and Armstrong deliver outstanding performances that show their characters confronting their innermost demons that complicate and harm their lives. Their performances were particularly poignant as it came on the same day of the verdict of a major sexual assault trial in Canada and also amidst the attention that domestic violence and sexual assault has received from the media, politicians and legislators.

Joe’s addiction to alcohol and abuse towards Theresa and Sandy makes him the villain throughout the play, until the end when he demonstrates a small glimpse of his humanity in trying to wrestle with the tragic consequence facing Al and Theresa. Al’s struggle to grieve the loss of his father, his questioning of his sexuality, and his desire to fit in puts him in a place of vulnerability. Lastly, one cannot help but feel compassion for the plight of Al and Theresa, who question and grapple with “the system” that is the constant backdrop to their lives. Whether it be Al’s blame of doctors for the death of his father or Theresa’s persistent reference of the judgements and directions from her social worker (some of which are insulting), the audience gets the feeling that the system and society as a whole could have done more to help these four characters. It also makes one question how many children are in the care of families facing similar tragic situations.

The Crackwalker is a powerful play that is definitely worth seeing. As articulated by The Crackwalker character, the play showcases the intersection of two rivers: a river of poison (demons and stories that haunt the characters) and a river of purity (innocence and joy). The cast portrays complex characters that tackle sensitive issues that resonate with the audience in different ways. It forces us to reflect on how we as a society can help those in need and mitigate or avoid tragic events that plague so many lives such as those of the characters in the play.

The Crackwalker runs until April 10 at the Factory Theatre in Toronto.

Photos by Joseph Michael Photography.

Paul Lewkowicz is a fan of politics, the arts, travel and tennis. He lives in Toronto.