Mother-son relationships have been the subject matter for writers and psychiatrists since Oedipus.
Necessarily, no one enters life without at least a modicum of maternal nurturing (ranging from cradle-to-grave devotion to a few short days before the painful reality of adoption or deal-with-the-devil agreements—cross-reference below—kick in).
Losing one’s mom prematurely often wreaks a different kind of havoc: Who will become the surrogate provider of warmth, security and care?
George F. Walker’s first East End Play opens and closes with Junior (Nathan Tannor Macdonald, needing just a bit more evidence of his inner-child/outer-man dilemma to increase the intensity) furrowing beneath Gail’s (similarly, Dawn Crysler aces the mothering bits—more contrast in her childlike moments would bring the drama closer to home) sweater, suckling and savouring her womanly breasts—deliriously content with those soothing parts of her anatomy. “I love them … That’s all I need,” he confesses.
For the rest of the time, Junior slowly but surely slips down the path of his failed-criminal father. He abhors the notion of following jailbird dad’s footsteps but can’t find anyone around him who is strong enough to pull him back from the life-ruining abyss. Pat Noonan does an excellent job playing Henry, the pathetic crook and hopeless dad.
Henry’s brother (Uncle Ritchie is never seen, but his presence keeps the storyline driving ahead to inevitable disaster) seems more successful as a career criminal. Wineva (Mary Laundry is wonderfully obsessed with her Che Guevara demeanour—inexplicably losing the called-for berets in favour of caps lost a key visual link to international rebels of the era) is his latest wife and operations manager. As the story unfolds, she bullies Junior into storing stolen goods in his mother’s house. The weak young man is unable to stand his ground, looking to Gail for a way to say no.
Intriguingly, Wineva plays on the notion of family: Auntie showers everyone with kisses (a few go beyond the proverbial peck on the cheek) and demands as many as she gives. The irony that preying on familial loyalty to justify any crime (from stealing food destined for the poor to flashing grenades during a corporate kidnap caper) will prevent Junior from ever having any of his own lurks just beneath the surface in many of the nine scenes.
The other female part is Gail’s best friend and hooker-in-training, Sandy (Heather Collacott). This “mother of the night” allows the playwright to further reinforce his womanly theme, concurrently adding another “Criminal in Love” to the mix despite the fact Sandy sees nothing wrong or illegal about her trade.
Rounding out the cast and providing many of the show’s finest moments is Mac Dodge as the apparently down-on-his-luck, alcoholic bum, William. Walker saves many of his best lines and situations for the wily character who makes a spectacular metamorphosis from homeless lie-about to respectable shrink, extolling and living the truth that “clothes make the man.” Hilariously and simultaneously metaphorically, those spiffy threads turn out to have been purloined from Henry’s closet. “This is weird. That’s my life. Get your own,” rails the incarcerated loser seeing an instant dad coming to life in his own threads.
Director Peter Feldman has crafted a quick-moving production that veers a touch more towards the comedy than the underlying air of angst and despair. Yet between the many laughs, Walker’s brilliant work is readily available for all who choose to hear.
With two more plays making up the set, we can only hope that Feldman and his talented charges will be back with the rest. In the manner of Tonight at 8:30, a staging of the trilogy would be a marvellous project. JWR