Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects has moved another step forward in its quest to present important work in a first-rate manner with its compellingly honest production of Problem Child.
In Kelly Daniels, playwright George F. Walker has a worthy champion for his courageous style that brings the disenfranchised into the limelight and lets them speak for their own miserable selves. She’s assembled a cast and crew that are at one with her vision of the tale of the truly pathetic couple who have taken up residence in a dingy motel of decrepitude that inaugurates Walker’s six-part Suburban Motel cycle.
Set and costume designer Michael Greves visually slips into the theme with a pair of empty-frame wall hangings and equally barren mirror whose vacant stares seem totally appropriate as the child-deprived parents (turned in by the maternal grandmother) wrestle with an unseeing system which wields power with a self-defined moral authority that ends up being buried alive.
The centrally placed TV—forever spewing forth the endless public humiliation of “real’ guests on national talk-shows—shines in its role of being the unseen window onto “civilized” society: “Just because it’s on TV doesn’t mean it can’t be real,” says it all.
Matt Flawn’s discreet lighting also supports the seedy atmosphere and the endless blinking “Motel” fixture establishes the rooms-by-the-hour establishment with every flash.
The quartet of actors utilize their varied backgrounds and skill-sets in a near dream-team combination that keeps the reunification-with-my baby-child action moving ahead, building the searing drama steadily to its bursting point where despair trumps reason: If you’ve nothing left to lose, monstrous actions can become the norm.
As the motel’s manager, Phillie, William Vickers fires on all cylinders from his first nose-against-the-glass appearance: his alchoholics-unanonymous demeanour is a model of body language and dialogue tone that convinces where others might mock; his Wednesday-as-dry-day ballet with a temperamental vacuum cleaner is a constant delight even as the metaphor of “sucking up dirt” cleans the threadbare (just one stain) carpet, but all of that merely sets the table for his compelling rant against the notion of justice and bad-boy collapse when reporting his failed kidnap attempt due to a single look of innocent joy. Marvellous.
Karen Wood’s portrayal of Helen—Children’s Aid Society Case Worker who has God and the government on her side—seemed a tad too flippant in the early going, but convinced entirely post resurrection.
TV-addict, ex-con (whose mother never visited) RJ was brought to life by Niagara-favourite Jason Cadieux. Like the flickering screen before him, Cadieux was well-prepared for every shot and brought a range of emotion that made his descent into cathode purgatory completely convincing.
Denise, the “recovering” druggie, “former” prostitute (How did she convince Phillie to consider stealing back her daughter?) is the toughest part by far. Thank goodness for Danielle Wilson who dug deep onto a mother’s instincts—no matter how addled by crack and fast-cash whoring—to present a compelling portrait of despair.
The ensemble was so successful that—simultaneously—those who felt the pain of their characters cried, while those who will never understand the plight of “you people” laughed. The latter are the real problem children. JWR