It is a winter night in St. John’s, Newfoundland. On the waterfront, Tony (Paul David Power) approaches the edge, looks out over the cold water, and we worry for him. Before he has the chance to act on dark impulses, Evan (Pat Dempsey) rushes in. This is the set up for Power’s play, Crippled, presented by Theatre Passe Muraille as part of #BeyondTO.
Tony, at first, is baffled, irritated, a little wary of this stranger in his midst. Evan is affable, cocky, tenacious. Eventually, Tony opens up to him and we discover the circumstances that lead him to this lonely spot. As a disabled gay man who has lost a long-term partner, he feels isolated and unlovable.
Recently nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the play is expertly well-paced, slow-burn character study. Power’s crafts a funny, touching meditation on grief and the ways we sabotage ourselves. It examines the psychological self-crippling that can result from emotional trauma.
This theme rises to the surface with a third character who figures here—Carl (Matt White). At a bar, he tries to strike up a conversation with Tony. Fixating on his disability, he becomes increasingly patronizing. Later though, as Evan helps to break Tony’s walls down, we come to understand that the interaction was more complex and nuanced than Tony allowed it to be.
Towards the end, the play suddenly breaks convention with a surprising revelation about Evan’s identity. The visceral impact of this meta-theatrical shift is intense, though, surprisingly, not the least jarring. It’s a natural progression and leads to an understated yet intensely moving conclusion.
Danielle Irvine’s production is naturalistic with rich, compelling performances. Gently atmospheric design elements create a vivid sense of place. Robert Gauthier suggests the water with undulating patterns of light on a sheet draped at the front of Kirsti Mikoda’s raised platform set. The backdrop is an out-of-focus video of St. John’s waterfront that plays throughout. The occasional set of headlights or human silhouette passing through furthers the immersion.
Crippled is a solid, thoughtful, poignant work.