Review by Sarah Higgins
Theatricality is put to excellent use as a catalyst for reflection in RealWheels Theatre’s production of Creeps. David E. Freeman’s play explores the experience of four men living with disabilities in Canada in 1971. It does so with overtly racist, sexist language, which lost impact for me as more of it was used. Often, I found the most effective moments were said without any words at all—were instead spoken through the theatrical language used by director Brian Cochrane and expressed beautifully by the men barricaded in the bathroom: Paul Beckett (Pete), Brett Harris (Sam), David A. Kaye (Michael), Aaron Roderick (Tom) and Adam Grant Warren (Jim).
First, the space. The whole play takes place in a beautiful bathroom: a beautifully old, yellowing, well-used and very atmospheric bathroom. The impact of Lauchlin Johnston’s set allowed the audience time to settle into the physicality of the space before the actors even entered the stage. And when that happened—when Michael, a non-verbal man with cerebral palsy entered the bathroom in silence and began flushing all the toilets—that’s when the second element of theatricality came in. Silence.
My first thought was, what is this silence like for someone living with disabilities? Is it different than my silences? Clearly chosen by Cochrane, this silence has intent behind it—but what does it feel like for a character that might encounter extended silences that they haven’t chosen? At other times the men are pushed to the ground or fall from their chairs, and we watch them, in real time, get back up. Often there is no glossing those moments over with speech, and they are more uncomfortable, and stronger, for that.
Third, and relatedly, the movement. Here again is a moment that speaks loudly without using words: when Carson, the boss (played by David Bloom) finally comes in to see what’s happening and bends down to talk to Jim with his hands on his knees, as if he were about to speak to a child. Volumes said.
And finally, the blatantly theatrical moments of the surreal Shriner circus. These scenes started as comic relief to counterpoint the discussion onstage, clowns running through the bathroom with hotdogs and balloon animals. But then that theatrical aside became one of the most controversial, and angriest, moments as a carnival barker brought up suicide. And this is where the play falters, for me, as all the weight of that scene—and the ones following it, back in the bathroom—have nowhere to be lightened, no surreal outlet. Nowhere to go but into the audience’s hearts, which is where it piles up, all this anger and hurt and discomfort.
And that, after all, is maybe the point, because all the weight at least gets us asking why it’s so heavy.
Creeps is playing at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre through December 10.
Sarah Higgins is a recent graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at UBC. She’s foremost a playwright, and has had work produced at both edges of the country. In Vancouver, she’s stage-managing Alchemy Theatre’s “Alice in Wonderland” this December.