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Paul David Power’s autobiographical play depicts love and human resilience
Having heard outstanding reviews of Paul David Power’s “Crippled” after its debut at the LSPU Hall in February, I was delighted to learn it was part of Perchance’s 2019 season and was excited to finally see it this weekend. It exceeded my expectations, and earned a well-deserved standing ovation at its opening Saturday afternoon.
The play is set on the St. John’s waterfront, late at night in February. Tony (Paul David Power) brusquely stomps to the edge of the stage and stares into the water. He doesn’t speak for several minutes, but Power’s commanding presence holds the audience’s attention, and it is clear what action Tony is contemplating. The theatre is silent except for the sound of water lapping against the waterfront.
Aside from four red wooden barriers that the actors occasionally sit on, and a pillar, the stage is empty. Its starkness draws viewers into the unforgiving cold and loneliness of a winter night in Newfoundland, and what Tony feels is the unfair cruelty that life has thrown at him through disability and death.
His profound fatigue is palpable and tragedy seems inevitable, until he is interrupted by a passing stranger who forces him to confront and accept his grief, guilt, fear and, ultimately, his own role in his unhappiness.
This stranger, Evan (Pat Dempsey), turns a mirror onto Tony’s life, forcing him to reconsider how he has perceived and interpreted not only other people's treatment of him because of his disability, but also how Tony has perceived and interpreted his own disability.
Though Dempsey and Power play strangers, the two actors have an irresistible chemistry. Evan and Tony’s reactions to each other and their dialogue flow naturally, gripping viewers’ attention because it’s as though one is eavesdropping. Tenderness, anger, frustration and laughter. Nothing is contrived.
Matt White’s performance as bar patron Carl was wonderful. He appears briefly onstage throughout the play as Tony replays his encounter with Carl over and over. With each replay, Carl’s dialogue and disposition shifts and, with them, the audience’s opinion of the character.
What is so impressive about White’s performance is that he is so utterly convincing with each iteration. In one moment he is thoroughly unlikeable, and in another the audience finds itself rooting for him.
Power’s writing combined with White’s delivery have viewers wholly immersed in Tony’s thoughts and feelings about Carl. We are, as Tony is, thoroughly convinced our judgments of Carl are correct even though they are shown again and again to be wrong.
The Perchance website describes Power’s autobiographical play as “A true love story that is both funny and touching.” It is this, but it is also a story of identity, forgiveness and acceptance.
At the risk of sounding cliché, “Crippled” reminds audiences of humanity’s resilience and capacity for love, two traits that have been buried by the rhetoric of politicians, media and social media in recent years.
It is a shame that Power’s visa application to bring the play to the U.S. was denied, and I hope audiences there do get the opportunity to see this play in the near future.
In the meantime, however, their loss is most certainly our gain, as Newfoundlanders are given another chance to experience “Crippled” throughout the summer. I strongly encourage everyone to go see it.
“Crippled,” directed by Danielle Irvine, continues until Aug. 31 at Perchance Theatre in Cupids. For more information, visit perchancetheatre.com or phone 1-709-771-2930.