Crippled by Paul David Power

Theatre Passe Muraille

Chris Hibbs

Joe Szekeres

A sometimes funny and sometimes poignant two hander about trying to move forward from a moment that doesn’t cripple individuals from doing so.

First, I must thank Theatre Passe Muraille for allowing me to re-live wonderful vacation memories five years ago in walking along the Water Street pier for my first trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Loved the city and am hoping to return sometime very soon to catch some theatre there as well as I’ve heard good things about the industry on the East Coast.

When I heard ‘Crippled’s story takes place on the pier in St. John’s, well, at least I could visualize that area in my mind because I did walk along there during the day. Never at night, mind you, as the play refers at one point not to walk alone at night.

‘Crippled’ is a human and as described in the programme: “a brutally honest snapshot of a very specific time and place that has, thankfully, evolved and expanded.” It has also been described as a heartbreaking love letter to playwright Paul David Powers’ long-term partner, Jonathan. I hesitate to call ‘Crippled’ an LGBTQ+ play because the emotions expressed and felt are universal as we have all experienced this sense of wanting to belong, to be loved, to love and to fit in somewhere.

As Tony at the top of the show, Power is walking alone at night along the Water Street waterfront peering down into the water. Just from the way he conducts himself ever so silently, there is an implication Tony is going to do the unthinkable as, for him, there is only one way to escape a life he no longer wants to live. Tony requires crutches to walk, as does Power.

Power delivers such an uplifting performance that I chose not to look at the crutches as any kind of hindrance. They became an important tool Paul used for heightened emphasis in some dramatic moments. I chose to disregard the fact Tony considers himself crippled in the play; instead, I saw an emotionally and deeply hurt individual whose mind appears to be made up to do the unthinkable until Evan (Pat Dempsey, who equally matches Powers’ performance delivery), a stranger, appears on the scene. We also meet Carl (Matt White) momentarily, another individual from the bar where Tony had a drink before he left rather quickly after holding a conversation with the former.

What follows is a heartfelt conversation between Tony and Evan about where their lives have gone, how they’ve transpired, and where do they go from there.

Kirsti Mikoda’s set design nicely brought a wonderful personal memory back in my mind. The set appeared to be on risers with steps at the back. I really liked the stone design at the front because it looked exactly like the stone along the waterfront. There are four red benches signifying a place where people can sit along the dock. These benches will become focal points as both Tony and Evan tell their stories.

Robert Gauthier’s lighting design ever so subtly creates that night lit whisp of moonbeams over the water. The glimmering moonlight water effect at the front of the playing space is beautiful to watch for a few moments as Tony walks the playing space area for a few minutes. George Robertson’s sound design nicely underscored many of the dramatic moments from Tony’s past.

Compassionate direction by Danielle Irvine for this mostly two hander play is one of the highlights of the production. Both Paul David Power and Pat Dempsey offer august, sensitive performances of wounded individuals who are more than just a label the world places on them. Matt White’s final entrance as Carl also reinforces this reality.

Power's script thankfully contains moments of necessary humour to break the tension. What also makes this script so true to life is the tough love element Evan uses to get Tony to recognize how important it is to keep moving forward from sadness and tragedy even when people believe their hearts may have been irreparably destroyed and cannot be healed.

Final Comments: There was a person who sat in front of me opening night who was openly demonstrative and emotionally triggered by the story. I do hope this individual took advantage of Passe Muraille’s observance to assist those in the audience who may experience this sudden onslaught of feelings. Later, as I waited for the Uber to take me back to Union Station, that same individual walked by me and told their friends they were hoping to see the production once again.

Just by quietly observing and listening to this moment, it came clear to me the power of live theatre and how much ‘Crippled’ influenced and affected that person extensively.

They obviously missed live theatre during these last two years.

I have too, and I’m grateful it’s back and feel safe while watching and experiencing this wondrous art form.

Production runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

Covid protocols in effect at the theatre.

Crippled runs to May 21 on the Main Stage at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets and other information, visit www.passemuraille.on.ca or call 416-504-7529.

Crippled by Paul David Power
A production by Power Productions by Theatre Passe Muraille
Director: Danielle Irvine
Dramaturge: Robert Chafe
Lighting Design: Robert Gauthier
Stage Manager, Set Design & Construction: Kirsti Mikoda
Sound Design: George Robertson
Associate Lighting Designer: Frank Donato

Cast: Paul David Power, Pat Dempsey, Matt White

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