Marie Jones and Rick Jon Egan bite into Judith Thompson’s The Crackwalker.
THE CRACKWALKER by Judith Thompson, directed by Michael Murphy (Staged and Confused). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). To October 11. Pwyc-$20. 416-504-7529. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
This November marks 28 years since Judith Thompson burst onto the scene with The Crackwalker at Theatre Passe Muraille. She's gone on to become one of this country's premier playwrights, and The Crackwalker is now a depressing Canadian masterpiece, a perfect play depicting terrible truths.
Our first glimpse of the lower depths is Theresa (Marie Jones), a character inspired by people the playwright encountered in her career as a social worker. Mildly mentally handicapped, Theresa languishes on the social fringes of Kingston, unable to grasp the extent of her own destitution. When she hooks up with the seemingly sweet Alan (Rick Jon Egan), the two crash on the floor of their friend Sandy's tenement apartment, looking for some way to settle down.
As the chronically immature Theresa, Jones seems natural rattling off Thompson's immaculately constructed hoser dialogue, a rich dialect that takes a few minutes to adjust to.
While the play is always intense, the arrival of Joe (Craig Pike), Sandy's abusive boyfriend, who's like a schoolyard bully on crack, takes the energy to a whole new level. Pike's abrasive performance commands attention; Joe's unfettered rage operates on a hair trigger.
Later, it's Theresa's doting fiancé, Alan, who becomes increasingly volatile and violent. Egan gives Alan's most revealing moment - a monologue where he calmly tries to explain the horrifying symptoms of his mental illness - extra impact, per-fectly capturing Alan's stutter and meek yet likeable personality while setting up his macabre meltdown.
It's still an urgently important play, and Michael Murphy's near-flawless production exposes and explores the hellish, unseen edge of the Canadian lower class, posing dark, uncomfortable questions about how best to help these broken people.