I’m pleased to say that this production of Walter, written by David Laing Dawson, has been created in collaboration with Artwood Artbar’s Judith and Ron Weihs and the Gallery on the Bay which is co–owned by the playwright. It’s an exciting new beginning for Judith and Ron as they have moved out of the original Artbar space downtown but are clearly still planning on making an impact in the Hamilton theatre scene.
Their home for this production and potential future productions is St. Andrew’s Hall at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in the core of Hamilton on James and Jackson. It’s a beautiful space and works particularly well for this one man show which follows the journey of Walter James Cross, the schizophrenic protagonist of the production.
Playwright Dawson actually created Walter as a film nearly 20 years ago. The current production is the script re-imagined for the stage by director Ronald Weihs and local actor Sean Emberley. Dawson was the former director for the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital and has used his some odd 50 years of observation and real life experience to create the compelling portrait of Walter and his journey through schizophrenia and the medical system.
Director Weihs lights the space evocatively as we follow the recollections of illness. David Gould creates a haunting sound scape that floats in an out like Walter’s recall. Blocking is relatively basic and perhaps some emphasis on segues between memories would help the general flow since it is 80 minutes in total. It’s the difference between feeling like you are hearing a speech and you can tune out and hearing a story that you don’t want to miss. That said Emberley is enigmatic enough to maintain the focus but it wouldn’t hurt to help him a little.
In the central role, he is captivating as he embodies the many ages of Walter. As a young man, we see his angst and then terror upon realizing is trajectory into the mental health system, then, as he ages, his new struggles with the system and the balance of medication. Emberley never once over sentimentalizes; instead, he allows the emotional reaction to resonate with the audience member. He simply tells the story as a grippingly real person. He leaves the richness and the ironies to his audience to ruminate.
His performance is like a poem. It’s presented with simplicity but has as many meanings as there are seats in the audience. He’s like the face of everyman with a mental illness. We’ve all seen him or known a piece of his story at one time in our lives. If you’ve worked in retail, or food service, or security, you’ve met him every day on the job. You’ve asked yourself what he’s doing and why or where he goes at night.
Sometimes it seems he doesn’t even see you even though you knew him in high school. He begs for money and mutters strange things when you walk by him. Emberley’s Walter is a theatrical vessel through which we can all better understand our personal interactions with the mentally vulnerable. It’s impossible not be emotionally touched by his presentation and each and every audience member will be remembering their own Walter as the stage lights go down.V
March 12-14 at 7:30 PM, $20
March 14 at 2:30 PM (matinee),
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church
70 James St. South
Wheelchair accessible at the
rear into St. Andrew's Hall
Tickets at the door
or contact (905) 543-8512 or
firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations