The Crowd

Camille Legg and Nathan Kay Credit: Emily Cooper
Camille Legg and Nathan Kay
Credit: Emily Cooper

At Studio 58 until April 3, 2016

Posted March 20, 2016

Two world premieres back-to-back: The Out Vigil (Firehall) and The Crowd (Studio 58). Now that’s what makes a city world-class: two world premieres in less than a week.

The Out Vigil was written by young, up-and-coming playwright Julie McIsaac; The Crowd was not only written by Canadian playwright giant George F. Walker but was written by Walker for Studio 58 in association with Green Thumb Theatre. Walker’s association and friendship with Green Thumb’s artistic director Patrick McDonald goes ‘way back, including productions of Tough! and Moss Park. The Crowd picks up the story of Bobby and Tina, the main characters in both of those earlier plays.

And just to make this production even more interesting: the role of Tina, in a production of Tough! back in the 90s, was played by the incomparable Leslie Jones. A graduate of Studio 58, Jones returns to the Studio 58 stage, this time as Dolores in The Crowd.

And Jones is wonderful. The students are wonderful, too, but Walker has written a funny, sinister, dark, crazy character and Jones just slips right in. She starts off as Dolores, a lady cop, but – and you just have to go with this – Dolores decides to go ‘undercover’ to find the leaders of a gang. She disguises herself as Mrs. Pickles, a clown in a fuzzy bright pink wig, red nose, oversize trousers, suspenders and big floppy shoes. Mrs. Pickles can reach her gun, if necessary, by dropping her pants. As an actor, Jones has a wild edge; with wide eyes and a startled look, she looks like she’s about to explode. In The Crowd, Mrs. Pickles intimidates a bunch of young people, lining them up, beating them with a big foam noodle and saying, menacingly, “Who’s the clown? I’m the clown. Say it. Say it. Say it.” “You’re the clown”, they mutter. “Louder!” she hollers.

Leslie Jones as Mrs. Pickles Credit: Emily Cooper
Leslie Jones as Mrs. Pickles
Credit: Emily Cooper

The story is crazy, too, although it starts out fairly normal: a young couple – Tina, very pregnant, and Bobby, sort of dazed – getting married by a civil servant. Bobby’s in trouble with the law and when Tina is asked what Bobby did wrong, Tina replies tersely, “He got born”.

And that, at the core, is what The Crowd is about: young people with no money and no prospects, raised by parents with no money and no prospects. Do these young adults dare to dream of a better life?

Walker, like the trio of scantily clad wedding reception entertainers who sing, “To The Left, To The Left”, takes the play sideways. A comet rapidly approaches earth, aliens abduct Ricky (Scott McGowan), but clueless Bobby, sweetly played by Nathan Kay, and head-screwed-on Tina (Camille Legg) get another chance at happiness.

The situation and the dialogue are very, very funny in an offbeat, off-the-wall sort of way. Written for the theatre students, Walker makes sure every single one of the actors gets to shine in a little scene. And these students run with it, carving, polishing and making their characters their very own.

Scott McGowan and Nathan Kay Credit: Emily Cooper
Scott McGowan  (Ricky) and Nathan Kay (Bobby)
Credit: Emily Cooper

The Crowd may be best suited to young adults, more willing to go off the rails with Walker. They will love the goofy physicality. For those of us well past our student years, one scene gets awkwardly preachy and seems out of place. It seems Walker just can’t help himself offering a leg-up to young people by offering advice. He can be forgiven for that; they need all the help they can get in a world that is at least as crazy and out of control as The Crowd.

A rational ray of light in all the chaos is Jill, Tina’s BFF, solidly played by Raylene Harewood.

Staging a George F. Walker world premiere is a huge coup and, under the direction of Patrick McDonald, an exuberant finish to Studio 58’s fiftieth anniversary and Green Thumb Theatre’s fortieth.