FUN HOME

Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Robert McQueen
A David Mirvish Presentation of the Musical Stage Co. Production
At the CAA Theatre, April 19-May 20, 2018

Hannah Levinson (small Alison) balancing on her father Bruce (Evan Buliung) (photo Cylla von Tiedemann)

American cartoonist Alison Bechdel turned her own eccentric and troubled family story into a moving graphic novel (named one of the best books of 2006), and then came librettist/lyricist Lisa Kron and musician Jeanine Tesori, who seized the opportunity to turn domestic and personal dysfunction into a riveting musical that mixes pop with ballads and Sondheim-like song-dramas. Fun Home won deserved Broadway fame in 2015, and now the Musical Stage Company has put it on the Toronto theatrical map with a production that is probing, nervous, exultant, sweet, melancholy, and suffused with pathos without wallowing in self-pity.

Considered “the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian,” Fun Home has far more going for itself than its chief protagonist’s sexual orientation. An ironically entitled, explicit memory-play that has ostensibly been created out of Alison Bechdel’s memories and detailed journals she kept since the age of 10, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, it chronicles her childhood and the years preceding and following her gay father’s suicide. There are three Alisons in the musical or, rather, three ages of the same character: nine-year old Small Alison, Medium Alison, the college student, and adult Alison (feeling “stuck” at age 43) who literally looks over the shoulder of each of her younger selves as they experience various vagaries of life, and sketching scenes from her past in order to make sense of raw life. The father, Bruce, is a high school teacher who likes restoring old houses and who runs a funeral parlour (the fun home of the title) on the side. He is sometimes nastily authoritarian about order and neatness (his first song is about white damask), though his own private life is ruckled by his secret homosexuality. The libretto encapsulates things with staccato brevity, as the adult Alison remarks: “He was gay. I was gay. He killed himself and I became a lesbian cartoonist.”

Camilla Koo’s scenic décor expresses the father’s urge towards maintaining at least a façade of neat order by rigid straight lines of a minimalist set, with white walls and a green door, before morphing into a suggestion of a realistic home. The white walls of the opening link to the adult Alison’s vocation as cartoonist because they could be taken as a blank sketchpad for drawings or a white screen for her mental projections. The musical intertwines past and present, and the score and lyrics are dynamic interrogations in pursuit of certitude. Jeanine Tesori’s combination of musical styles are an ambivalent mix of anger and love, often creating (like Sondheim) a clever dissonance in multiple-part songs interspersed with pastiche numbers (a parody of the Partridge Family and a Jackson Five celebration). There are two numbers about sexual awakening (college-student Alison’s hymn to Joan in “I’m Changing my Major” and her ode to a striking delivery woman), and all these are part of a unified totality to articulate the principal themes and drive both the comedy and drama.

Alison (Laura Condlln) looking over the shoulder of Medium Alison (Sara Farb) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

It is a textured musical that holds fast to the modern trend in musicals to be exploratory, even diffuse as they explore themes that were hardly ever touched by old-style musicals. Yet, it is not without a fair share of zany humour as it balances the light and the dark, the joyous and the sad. It tells a story with remarkable conciseness, and this Canadian production honours the story with some remarkable performances. Eric Morin plays multiple roles, the most important probably being that of the young man who feeds Bruce’s covert sexual urge. The actor, though, looks too ripe for this part, though this is not to deny his acting talent. Eleven-year old Hannah Levinson plays young Alison with an appealing mixture of fun and frustration, delighting at balancing herself like an aeroplane on her father’s legs one moment, yet begging for his attention at another. Fuelled by irrepressible energy, she and her two younger brothers (played with a sense of naïve mischief by Jasper Lincoln and Liam MacDonald) can play in coffins, but Alison is a rebel at heart, especially when it comes to displaying her distaste for a “stupid” dress she is forced to wear by her father. Levinson gives a remarkably true and touching performance, and her singing is superb, especially in “Ring of Keys,’ with a display of amazing vocal and acting virtuosity. Sara Farb as Medium Alison maintains the high standard with her knockout solo “I’m Changing My Major,” a candidly comic coming-out number, giddily ardent yet nervously insecure about her falling helplessly in love with butch activist Joan (Sabryn Rock). Farb has never been more moving than in this role. And holding firm as the adult Alison, bespectacled Laura Condlln is almost a lookalike of Rachel Maddow, though very correctly without that journalist’s self-assured loquacity and irony. Condlln is the conscience of the piece, creatively questioning as she gives shape and substance to her ghosts of memory. And she sings far better than I expected, shining in the pointillist “Telephone Wire.”

Another standout number is Cynthia Dale’s rendition of “Days and Days,” Alison’s mother’s tortured cry from the heart about her dysfunctional marriage to a man tormented and tormenting. However, her role is thin and Dale gives rather mechanical line-readings at times. Evan Buliung as her husband Bruce acts with prickly edginess, though, ultimately, he misses achieving pathos—perhaps because he allows the character’s external mask to obscure the inner human vulnerability.

Robert McQueen’s production gleams with intelligence, taste, and measured control, maintaining admirable tension without becoming glum or overly sombre. Its only significant shortcoming is the lack of powerful sublimity at the end, but it has more than its fair share of virtues. In fact, it deserves to enter the history books as one of the best musical productions ever done in Toronto.

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THE OVERCOAT: A MUSICAL TAILORING

Libretto and Direction by Morris Panych
A Canadian Stage Co-Production
with Tapestry Opera and Vancouver Opera
March 29-April 14, 2018

Geoffrey Sirett as Akakiy (photo: Dahlia Katz)

An ordinary man’s life is turned upside down after he has a new overcoat made for him. You wouldn’t necessarily think much of this seed of a plot, but Gogol made immense satire of it in his 1842 short story, and over a hundred years later, Morris Panych devised a gleaming mime-and-movement piece that went on to win immense favour and critical awards. Being a clever artist, Panych has not left this critical and popular success go to waste. Two decades after the debut of his smash hit, Panych has re-tailored his wordless Overcoat into an opera, with the considerable help of James Rolfe’s music that uses and reshapes Shostakovich, with some quotation from Bach and Beethoven, and a witty nod to Gilbert and Sullivan. Panych’s long-time collaborator and real-life partner, Ken Macdonald puts his own creative resourcefulness to the test, re-painting and adapting his modular set from Sweet Charity a few seasons ago at the Shaw to the minimalist requirements of this musicalized fable.

The physical scale of the production is still large, but the lyrics and music ally with the ensemble’s movement (choreography by Wendy Gorling) to expand the core feelings behind the characters and themes. After all, musical theatre cannot have the same verbal dexterity of intricate thought that straight theatre can have, but Panych knows this already, and he also exploits the potential of physical theatre to express human emotion. After all, movement divorced from feeling is abstract to a fault, and Gogol’s fable is anything but abstract. It satirizes human need, urgency, and foibles. Akakiy (lanky baritone Geoffrey Sirett) is an accountant who rhapsodizes numbers in his head. “Is there anything that doesn’t count?” he wonders aloud, suggesting extra connotations for the question. Zero is his favourite numeral. However, though his mind expands with the ecstasy of enumeration, his image shrinks in the eyes of others because of his shabby government overcoat that provokes their disdain and distaste. When the snuff-addicted tailor Petrovich (a very fine Peter McGillivray who also doubles as the officious Head of Department) makes Akakiy an imposing, almost regal overcoat, Akakiy’s fortunes turn. Panych repeats the wonderful moment when the new overcoat takes on a headless life of its own, with Akakiy’s rapture clearly showing. But the accountant’s material fortune doesn’t take into account the vagaries of life, and Akakiy is eventually reduced to a frustrated madman, imprisoned in an asylum where other inmates serve as a chorus or corps to register his descent into lunacy, with the overcoat becoming Akakiy’s straitjacket.

Akakiy surrounded by Mad Chorus (photo: Dahlia Katz)

Panych’s production is colourfully stylized, wonderfully lit by Alan Brodie, and cleverly costumed by Nancy Bryant in a manner that allows freedom of expressive movement, though the choreography of the commuters is sometimes overly repetitive with diminishing returns. However, the score (played by a 12-piece orchestra conducted masterfully by Leslie Dala), the ensemble sequences, and the singing work together to make the re-tailoring a major achievement, with especially fine work accomplished by Sirett (whose kinetic blissful quirkiness morphs into demented immobility), McGillivray (a double treat as tailor and head bureaucrat), Andrea Ludwig as a louche landlady who could have been generated by Brecht, and a superb mad chorus by Magali Simard-Galdes, Caitlin Wood, and Erica Iris Huang.

THE GOD GAME

By Jeffrey Round
Dundurn
326 pages, $16.99 (paper)
ISBN: 9781459740105

Lambda Award-winning Toronto writer, Jeffrey Round, should be a household name in households that value gay detective fiction. The God Game, his new Dan Sharp mystery (the fifth in a series), is suspense-filled, has a vivid sense of place, and shows off Round’s special talent in the genre. Its plot concerns the missing husband of a gay Queen’s Park aide who seems to have run off to escape gambling debts, and gay detective Dan Sharp is hired to track him down. The nuts and bolts of detective fiction are in operation (a dead MPP; a mysterious figure who makes or breaks reputations of rising politicians; two sisters who trade identities; a political journalist who comes to a bad end; etc.), and the novel holds the reader’s attention throughout. But I, who am not a connoisseur of or an inveterate fan of detective fiction, don’t read Jeffrey Round merely for his tricks of suspense. I value him for his true literary motive: an exploration of human relationships within the circumscription of milieu, circumstance, and character—in other words, the exigencies of our lives, especially of gay lives, that (as Edmund White puts it) express the introspective advantages of the “outsider, of the foreigner and of the pioneer.” As a creator of gay fiction, Round performs meticulous research (on anything from gambling and local politics to gay art, LGBT issues, Weimar history, rap music, and funerary customs). He demonstrates a sensitive understanding of minority groups, and he habitually exercises an ability to reflect in fresh terms on themes of love, parenthood, friendship, disappointment, and survival in a changing world.

Every Jeffrey Round novel has a vivid sense of place, and this one is no exception. This is an instantly recognizable Toronto, with a crack-addicted mayor, gay MPP, and ethnic and stratified minorities, and its ambience is palpable, whether it issues from old-money, WASPish Rosedale, the working-class area of Bathurst and Dupont, or Queen’s Park. And Dan Sharp easily transcends clichés of the genre by the facts of his identity and unfolding existential complications. He is a gay father to an occasionally doubting son, a conflicted same sex partner, and the estranged lover of a man who provokes him into reflecting painfully on how one learns to love “through disappointment and doubt.” And Round’s flashes of wit (his chapter titles, his acidulous comment on gay status symbols, and his sketches of character) are signs of literary finesse—perhaps none so much as this phrase that crystallizes Dan’s ex-lover: “Narcissus crossed with a Botticelli angel.”

BLACK BOYS

By Saga Collectif
Directed by Jonathan Seinen
A Buddies in Bad Times Production, March 1-11, 2018

 

(L-R): Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Thomas Olajide, and Tawiah Ben M’Carthy

Having already been a smash hit in 2016 and completed a three-city tour to Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal, Black Boys is back for a brief run at Buddies. Offering itself (with tongue in cheek) as “a spiritual experience,” it is a 95-minute hybrid of dance, monologue, and discursive debate, circumscribed by the personal experiences of three black gay males in a predominantly white heterosexual world. The three are Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, a male with one black daddy and three white parents; Ghanaian-born Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy; and Thomas Olajide from Vancouver. The sparse décor (movable, gauzy sliding panels), restrained but effective lighting by Jareth Li, and strategic use of exotic costuming by Rachel Forbes later in the piece allow for greater sonic or vocal registers, and the two standout features are movement and monologue, especially with Virgilia Griffith’s dynamic choreography for solos and pas de deux (especially involving M’Carthy and Olajide).

Overall, it is fair to say that the piece is a spiritual experience, though clearly not in a religious sense. The church sequence is a hilarious parody of fundamentalist extremism and homophobia). In a well-wrought sequence about the history of “Amazing Grace,” the show hits a peak which is not, alas, held for long. Nevertheless, uneven though it is, what Black Boys manages to be a generally affecting subversive cross-genre entertainment—one that uses autobiography, sociology, politics, and sex as raw material with which to subvert the normal performative modes of gender, sexuality, and race. Anger is necessary fuel, and the black bodies become weapons of comment, protest, and attack. Sonic distortions (sound and video design by Stephen Surlin) conspire with gestural distortions to create an alluring complex, and there is ample comedy to balance the sombre, seedy, and troubling.

Jackman-Torkoff loves his own comedy, whether stripping totally early in the show, wearing a woman’s dress (rather badly), or parodying Brando’s cry for Stella from Streetcar. M’Carthy looks as appealing as black licorice, and has a voice and movement that are supple, sweet and sensuous. Olajide is sex and sin, racial pride and defiance rolled into one irresistible package. Trouble is that Black Boys over-extends itself, as some of the riffs go on with diminishing returns, and there are moments of hysteria as lean, loose-limbed Jackman-Torkoff is frequently self-indulgent in movement and vocal delivery to the point of grotesque exaggeration. However, he is not without merit, and he is more than balanced by M’Carthy’s incarnation of post-colonial African shame and, best of all, Olajide’s physical elegance and sensuality married to a potent vocal delivery that, in one stunning monologue about his black “frame” in a white “gallery,” that deploys well-wrought rhymes, crystallizes what this piece could have been as art rather than as interesting, provocative didacticism.

KING CHARLES III

By Mike Bartlett
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Presented by Studio 180 for the off-Mirvish Series,
At the CAA Theatre, Toronto until March 4, 2018
(Guest reviewer: Maria Heidler) 

“Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.”
Or, in Mike Bartlett’s award-winning play, let us address the crises that could occur following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Bartlett tells us that he has taken his inspiration from Shakespeare, and has given us a “future history”, a family epic (a 5-Act play with ghost and comic sub-plot) written in blank verse in the enveloping rhythms of iambic pentameter which, when performed by Studio 180’s superb cast, draw you into a very modern tale with modern speech; a musical of words, an opera of emotion.

As we await the start of the tale, the stage is bare apart from a top-lit, shallow, three-tiered dais which dominates the floor. Pre-show music is almost subliminal, with ghostly pulsating beats. Then a soft haze descends from above giving a sense of uncertainty – a problem yet to be solved?

Then the lights dim to a tolling of bells and choral accompaniment, as the 12 members of the cast enter and process the stage with amber candles. Charles (David Schurmann) then addresses the audience to set the scene. He tells us that this is the funeral of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Already his famous dry wit is apparent as the Royal Family gather around, and talk of his becoming King at the forthcoming Coronation. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (Rosemary Dunsmore), corrects them by stating that he is King already on the death of his mother. She is ignored!

In Joel Greeberg’s fine production, scenes flow seamlessly one into another, giving the play pace and momentum. This is partly achieved by minimal set decoration, and by props and basic furniture being handled by cast and crew in neatly choreographed sequences with the dialogue continuous. This echoes how the play would have been performed in Shakespeare’s time.

Now, the King receives his weekly visit from the Prime Minister (Gray Powell) and is asked to sign into law, a Bill that has been passed by both Houses of Parliament for a Statutory Regulation of the Press and Media. Charles is concerned it restricts the freedom of the Press and asks for alterations, but the P.M. refuses. Charles later receives the Leader of the Opposition (Patrick Galligan) to voice his concerns, but this Tory can’t be swayed, not wanting to jeopardise his already tenuous position. In the meantime, both Charles and his son William, Duke of Cambridge (Jeff Meadows) have been separately visited by an apparition of Diana, Princess of Wales, who has promised both they will be “the greatest King of all”. Now Charles, tired of his many “ling’ring” years as heir-in-waiting, asserts his Royal Prerogative and dissolves Parliament. The P.M. threatens a new Law, bypassing the Royal Assent and pushing through the Bill.

In tandem with this drama, we see Prince Harry (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) in hoodie and jeans, hanging with his mates in pubs. We learn that his marriage to Meghan Markle was short-lived (Bartlett has variously updated his script since the play’s opening in the U.K. in 2014) and now he meets a vocal Republican, Jess Edwards (Jessica Greenberg), whom he falls for. The “ginger-jester” is still being hounded by the rumour that he was the lovechild of Diana’s friend, James Hewitt…that ginger hair said it all! Maybe his“outsider” status draws him to this anti-monarchist, although in a lover’sspat re his previous marriage, he points out that “she was from Hollywood –you’re from Cricklewood!” This rebellion has all the fun of Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, but…anarchy is afoot. Riots take place across the country and Buckingham Palace is besieged.

(L-R): Jeff Meadows (Prince William), Shannon Taylor (Princess Catherine), Rosemary Dunsmore (Camilla), and David Schurmann (Charles III) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Charles increases the Guard and has a tank placed in the forecourt. Meanwhile, Jess is also besieged—by the Press who dig up compromising photos from her past. Charles offers to protect her and agrees to Harry’s wish to become a commoner. Impasse rules the Kingdom. But now Kate, William’s wife, (Shannon Taylor) shows her immense power and feminist principles and, in Lady Macbeth fashion, spurs her waffling husband to mediate between King and Parliament. William emasculates his father in the most public way, and both he and Harry threaten to isolate their father if he will not come to the table. He capitulates. Charles is forced to abdicate in favour of William, who plans to sign the Bill and restore the status quo. Even Harry backs down and rejects Jess and reverts to his Royal entitlement. The Coronation takes place and the processional is accompanied by an atonal dirge that reeks with foreboding. William takes his place on the Throne with Kate at his side, an Equal Consort. As Charles takes the Crown to place it on his heir’s head, he remarks at the bejewelled perimeter encircling – Nothing! Signifying nothing! The Hollow Crown.

A powerful play – particularly at this moment in history. Superbly performed by a fine cast who ‘spoke the speech, trippingly on the tongue’ and were not tempted to veer into farcical territory re the British (especially the “Royal”) accents. Also, stature and body language were spot on – even William signed the Abdication with his left hand!

A DELICATE BALANCE

By Edward Albee
Directed by Diana Leblanc
A Soulpepper Production at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts
Opened January 18, 2018

(L-R): Oliver Dennis (Tobias); Kyra Harper (Edna), Laura Condlln (Julia),  Brenda Robins (Claire), Nancy Palk (Agnes), and Derek Boyes (Harry) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Edward Albee’s comic and dramatic varnish can often camouflage the less than firm underpinnings of some of his plays. Opening in a cozy living-room of a suburban home, where Agnes, smugly serene and imperious wife of Tobias, a man cocooned in his own gentle concentration and deference, sets a tone of mandarin elegance very reminiscent to that of a Henry James character, A Delicate Balance gleams with satiric wit. The middle-aged couple are deep into their ritual of evening drinks and conversation, dominated, of course, by Agnes, who claims to be astonished by what is unfolding within her—a feeling of encroaching madness as “a gentle loosening of the moorings,” a sense of being adrift, a stranger in the world. Tobias’s initial response is a WASPish joke, in the sense of gentle irony, well-mannered and almost a throwaway before anisette or some cordial. But Albee is merely playing a game of satire, making sure that there is as yet no crack in a foundation he wishes to shake to its core in due course. It is evident that the couple are no longer sexually intimate with each other, one reason being Tobias’s fling with Claire, Agnes’s alcoholic sister, who has moved in with them, and who delights in boosting Tobias while embarrassing Agnes. And so, the ritual turns into something else.

There is talk about infidelity, frigidity, a lost child (the couple’s only son who died young), and the collapse of the fourth marriage of Julia (the couple’s daughter), who returns home quite desperate and unhappy at not having merely lost yet another husband but her own room as well in the family home. Things go from bad to eerie, with yet another desperate arrival—that of best friends, Edna and Harry, who seem terrorized by something unnamed. Soon, the new arrivants seem to be taking over the home with a sense of entitlement, and new sparks fly as the metaphorical ground shifts. Agnes drops her scorn and arrogance in moments of genuine bafflement. Tobias has a difficult time maintaining his rectitude. Harry remains frozen in terror. Julia goes to tear-streaked, rage-inflected pieces. Claire, alcohol-fuelled, sees reality the clearest, justifying her emblematic name. The play moves into existential horror. The mood is one of plague, disease, distemper. And huge cracks appear in characters’ composure, igniting explosions of anger, dismay, bafflement.

But this is where Albee turns from gleaming, witty dramatist to pretentious metaphysician or allegorist. The terror is never specifically identified, though it is probably a combination of fear of impending death and of a generalized existential need to feel comforted and wanted. Indeed, Albee crystallizes this existential truth with black humour in the final act, where it becomes abundantly clear what each character lacks in life. The truth of each character is forced out, and what first seemed like little holes or cracks are magnified into something psychologically cavernous.

In short, A Delicate Balance attempts its own balancing act of anomalous feelings and actions, rhetoric and genre, and it is really a landscape of hills and caves rather than one of gentle slopes and plains. Diana Leblanc’s production, however, is eerily flat and often monotonous, though intelligent. Hampered by the configuration of a playing area set between two sides of an audience, Astrid Janson offers a tidy carpeted living room with sideboard, sofas, and crystal, but  even Andre de Toit’s attempts at mood lighting (sometimes abrupt) do not create a sense of enveloping existential danger. Patrick Clark’s costumes are serviceable, as is John Gzowski’s sound design. The acting is generally competent, but several of the performances seem superficial and not especially vivid or fully fleshed. Derek Boyes and Kyra Harper, for example, are fine as the friends with a sense of entitlement, but they never seem credibly terrified by anything existential. They seem to be having a bad day rather than being shaken to the core by an unfulfilled need. Laura Condlln gets close to being over the top but manages to depict Julia’s spoiled brat neediness and frustration vividly. In what is often the showiest role, Brenda Robins is more of an epigrammatic joker than soul-shaken alcoholic. The comic lines come forth but there is no sense of the depth and horror of disease. As gentle but quietly frustrated Tobias, Oliver Dennis explodes more frequently than he should so that when the ultimate explosion is required as he reveals what he has been disguising for so long, he seems to be merely repeating the same anger at what had gone before. On the other hand, Nancy Palk is correctly in character as Agnes: imperious, serene as she lobs nasty verbal grenades at Claire, perplexed at the invading friends, and over-compensating for humiliations, but the degree of radiance is somewhat lower than it should be because the general tone of the production is genteel and conversational. The cast and director seem to have forgotten that all is not naturalism in Albee. I would have liked a disturbing hill or threatening cavern or two to figure more prominently in a rolling plain.

TRUE CRIME

By Torquil Campbell & Chris Abraham
Directed by Chris Abraham
A Crow’s Theatre Presentation at Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto
January 16-20, 2018

Torquil Campbell

Based on real-life impostures of a Bavarian expatriate, Christian Gerhartsreiter, in the U.S. who was convicted in 2008 of abducting his own young daughter and later of murder committed many years earlier in California, True Crime is constructed on the credo of theatre as a lie, deception, or illusion. Built from a variety of secondary evidentiary sources (video, print, film) and, most importantly, personal interviews with its notorious subject in prison, it is an absorbing 90-minute piece of suspenseful meta-theatre in which two narratives converge to play tantalizing games with the audience. Chris Abraham’s staging keeps the main focus properly on Torquil Campbell (a singer, actor who hails from a distinguished theatrical family), and this is all to the good for Campbell (whom I first saw as a young boy acting very efficiently opposite his iconic father Douglas Campbell in Shakespeare at Stratford) spins an enticing web of tale-telling. Torquil (who can boast of the fine character-actor Ben Campbell as a half-brother, and the amazingly gifted Moya O’Connell as a wife) had not acted in 18 years prior to devising this show. Both he and his subject, Gerhartsreiter (alias Clark Rockefeller, Chris Crow, Chris Chichester), are fans of Alfred Hitchcock films and Patricia Highsmith crime stories, and the show often plays out like sequences from a film noir, with stunningly portentous lighting (sometimes hazy cabaret, sometimes glaring rock concert, sometimes expressively noir) by Remington North and discreet musical accompaniment by Julian Brown, composer and multi-instrumentalist. However, there is a slanted, witty irony: the original shape-shifter was never, he claimed, into murder per se but only into intriguing ways of getting away with the crime. Gerhartsreiter preferred to call himself a confabulator because he considered himself a clever inventor whose deceptions hurt no one. This was, perhaps, the ultimate lie in a life of lies from a liar who was in a dark void that tried to swallow anyone willing to approach it.

In his glasses, short hair, and casual clothing, Campbell looks strikingly like Gerhartsreiter did in his 40s, but his incarnation of the dominant Rockefeller persona has a wryly camp vocal accent and tone, rooted, of course, in the motive of deliberate lying. Like his subject, the actor reinvents himself, turning himself from epigrammatic frontman of the band Stars into an unreliable narrator of a complicated tale about a totally unreliable criminal who has his own misleading autobiographical stories. The actor relies chiefly on himself, his own highly personal vocal skills, body language, and palpable presence. He engages briefly with warm repartee with the front-row audience, dispensing witty epigrams with just a drop or two of acid, and his only mechanical enhancement is a microphone placed near a lectern, apart from the economical but highly effective sound and lighting design. In other words, the actor/performer is left to his own devices, just as his notorious subject was in real life—the prime device being his own wit in a dual sense of sinister intelligence and off-the-wall humour. (Gehartsreiter reportedly remarked in prison that he was depressed but not unhappy.)  Imposture in itself is witty because it demands total believability as artifice to be effective. What renders it corrupt is motive, and Campbell shows how this is so, though he insists (not without organic bemusement) at one point that the story is about love and how we create the story of our lives.

The criminal imposter’s tale starts in opulent San Marino (California), and moves to other locales, including Manhattan (where he pretended expertise in bond trading), Cornish (New Hampshire), and Blythe (California) (where the con-man is incarcerated in Ironwood State Prison). Campbell covers every major persona developed by Gerhartsreiter with technical ease, even expanding his repertoire to include other human figures and a barking pet dog. Just as the con-man interposed himself into quiet, conservative communities before exploiting their gullibility, Campbell exploits the audience’s willingness to be complicit in his fiction. He is utterly compelling and truthful when he reveals the extent to which he became obsessed with his subject, to the point of putting his marriage to the edge of breakdown and of putting his own physical safety and mental equilibrium into dangerous question. He shows how his relationship with the imposter breaks down, leading him to panic and paranoia. He sings tart, edgy songs in a startlingly rough, grainy voice rising to a scream, suggesting how his subject was a seemingly well-bred but sinister muse that acted like a drug on him, without benefit of therapy. This, perhaps, is what distinguishes Campbell from marvellous monologist Daniel MacIvor, who often spins a tale before unravelling it as an auto-fictional conceit. Campbell is more like the late Spalding Gray because of the real sense that the narrative is descending into a very dangerous area of the psyche with unpredictable results. At least until the last part of the show when he becomes the trickster attempting to rebound his trick off the audience. But up to that point, True Crime is like a first-rate melding of Hitchcock, Highsmith, and Tarantino, with nods to psychodrama. Both Campbell and Chris Abraham (director and co-creator) conspire marvellously in this dramatic fable in order to satisfy an audience’s need for stories in which the dividing line between truth and fiction blurs but with exciting theatrical results.