'The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time' by Walter Borden
Now onstage at Tarragon Theatre
Stoo Metz. Taken from Tarragon's Facebook page
A fine lesson in storytelling from a highly respected performing artist
I spoke with Walter Borden a few weeks ago when the production was in its final rehearsal stages before the Toronto premiere at Tarragon.
He stated that ‘Epistle’ reminds him of Maya Angelou’s: “We are more alike than unalike.” Because we are like this, the human spirit has resiliency and insurgency.
I still think about this response because it’s so simple on the surface, but it’s also so complex.
This complexity about the human spirit in Borden’s ‘The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time’ is one I find both a struggle and a fascination to understand. It’s a struggle because what comes clear to me about this Toronto production is my realization of how difficult it must have been to be both black and gay in 1970 Nova Scotia. It’s also fascinating because Borden and Director Peter Hinton-Davis treat the complex show material as brand new to them in Toronto. Along with the show’s creative team, they want to revisit the material again. It’s fascinating to me that artists will not remain complacent in their careers.
This story is not Walter Borden’s. His indomitable task is sharing a solo story featuring ten characters exploring homosexuality from a Black perspective that remains simple and complex.
For example, there are moments where the text’s rather simple but blunt language makes me feel highly uncomfortable. At one point, Borden directly mocks black music artists who wear lots of bling and refer to their women as ‘ho’s’. To hear that latter term has always bothered me, no matter the context. There is another moment when Borden describes a woman who uses sex to make a living when she speaks to a welfare officer. How wonderfully cagey and ironic when we learn the child of this woman grows up and becomes successful in life. Once again, the complexity of how this woman was treated made me ill at ease.
Nevertheless, good theatre should make us question, feel ill at ease, and uncomfortable.
And that it does thanks to the strongly inspired production under Peter Hinton-Davis’s direction, Andy Moro’s set, costume and projection design and Adrienne Danrich O’Neill’s sound design. Walter told me in his interview how this gifted artistic team confirmed that Peter could see the layers of meaning in the text the first time he read it.
The other strength of the production is Walter Borden’s illuminating performance. He brings these ten characters to life sometimes whimsically and other times in a matter-of-fact manner.
At the top of the show, Walter enters from the back of the auditorium in a parking lot attendant’s uniform which is rather clever. There is a parking lot booth centre stage. To me, it appears that a parking lot attendant would meet and see all kinds of people.
Borden becomes these characters with a graceful fluidity that is seamless in transition. I could clearly hear every word enunciated which is a bonus in seeing these characters come to life. Again, when he first appears as the parking lot attendant, Walter enters from the back of the auditorium like a senior citizen with hunched shoulders, carrying his lunch box, and turning on the operatic music which blares from his booth. When he speaks about the ‘ho’s’ Borden wears the bling on his fingers which immediately captured my eye because they’re dazzling. Costumes and props have been placed on the stage which assist Walter in becoming the various characters.
Pay close attention to the moment when Walter pulls out the quilt and lovingly places it on the stage for the audience to admire. The lighting seamlessly makes the colours dazzle. However, it’s not the colours Borden wants us to admire. Instead, he makes a comment about the stitching involved in the making of the quilt that is of utmost importance. Again, fascinating.
Final Comments: A joy to watch one of Canada’s finest artists at work on the stage.
Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission
The production runs until October 15 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, call the Box Office at (416) 531-1827 or visit tarragontheatre.com for more information.
A Tarragon Theatre/NAC presentation of the NAC/Neptune Theatre production
The Toronto Premiere of
‘The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time’
Written and Performed by Walter Borden
Directed by Peter Hinton-Davis
Set, Costume, Lighting and Projection Designer: Andy Moro
Sound Designer and Composer: Adrienne Danrich O’Neill
Sound Coordinator: Lyon Smith
Stage Manager: Fiona Jones