by George F. Walker
Rogue Theatre Equity Co-op
Havana Theatre
1212 Commercial Drive
April 6-23

Canadian playwright George F. Walker has a thing for life’s losers. In his TV series This Is Wonderland, the bizarre dregs of Toronto society face an insanely overstressed legal system.

Characters even further down the social ladder take centre stage in his Suburban Motel plays, an inter-linked series of six hilariously bleak one-acts all set in a single squalid motel room. This is the end of the end of the line, temporary home to petty criminals and alcoholics, the inept and pathetic. People who know that when the shit hits the fan, it’s going to blow right in their face.

Criminal Genius is the funniest of the Motel plays and this Equity Co-op production directed by Mel Tuck in the shabby intimacy of the Havana finds enough of Walker‘s ferocious humour to make it the sharpest comedy in town.

Rolly and Stevie Moore (Nick Misura and Johann Helf) may be the most incompetent father-son team in the history of petty crime. Along with paralytically drunken motel caretaker Phillie (John Shaw), they find themselves caught up in a hopelessly failed arson and revenge scheme run by tough gal Shirley (Jo Bates) on behalf of sociopathic Amanda (Denise Jones), daughter of the vicious local mob boss.

Wide-eyed Helf as Stevie makes a wonderful foil to Misura’s sad-sack, pot-bellied Rolly, with his thinning hair, missing teeth and holey undershirt. Like Abbott and Costello directed by Quentin Tarantino, father and son get on these riffs that build comically through repetition, then explode in a line that shouldn‘t be humorous at all but is screamingly funny in some awful way. ”Give him the watch,” says Rolly. “No,” Stevie says, “I‘m not gonna give him my watch.” After five or six variations of this, Rolly delivers his punch line: “If you don’t give him the watch I will kick you to death!”

Part of what makes them such losers in the criminal world is that they “can’t do violence.” They’re really out of their depth when faced with blond trouble in the form of Amanda or the dark, profanity-spewing Shirley. Amanda likes killing so much it makes her want to have sex. When Shirley gets out of the shower, the first piece of clothing she puts on is her black leather gloves. Rolly can only gasp in astonishment at the details of her latest homicide: “You put a knife in someone’s head?!”

In some of the other Motel plays I’ve seen, Phillie has been funnier than Shaw makes him here, but he gets his share of big laughs. He also has the play’s final monologue, spoken from offstage in an inspired scene that epitomizes Walker’s absurdly grim social comedy.

Now when is some local theatrical entrepreneur going to present all six Suburban Motel plays in repertory like Toronto’s Factory Theatre has so successfully done?

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Friday, April 15, 2005 3:42 PM
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