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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Theatre review: The Crowd is at its best down the rabbit hole

In the final production of its 50th anniversary season, Studio 58 presents another chapter in the life of Bobby and Tina, in George F. Walker’s The Crowd.

Originally seen in Walker’s Tough!, written over twenty years ago, and then again in his 2013 Moss Park, Bobby and Tina have had a tumultuous relationship. In The Crowd, Tina is once again pregnant and the two are finally going to tie the knot. True to form though, Bobby has learned little since the two originally hooked up in high school and, having found himself caught up as an accessory to a robbery gone terribly wrong, he must help the police to save himself and Tina.

Not that you really need to know Bobby and Tina to understand what is going on in The Crowd, but it does help to know they have some history.  It also helps to know that as Tina has grown through each play, Bobby has never managed to keep up.

Where Tough! and Moss Park were raw explorations of teen pregnancy and finding your way in the world, The Crowd gradually reveals itself as an increasingly bizarre next chapter in the life of the two lovers. While Walker continues to explore the difficulties of lower middle class youth, he takes several steps beyond reality that includes an undercover cop dressed as a clown, and the arrival of surprising wedding guests during what appears to be the end of the world. Without wanting to spoil too much though, suffice to say there are a number of outlandish shifts into an existential exploration that goes well beyond Walker’s two main characters.

Returning Studio 58 grad Leslie Jones plays an undercover cop in George F Walker’s The Crowd. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Seated inside this odd mix of criminals, clowns and comets remains the central question that has kept Walker coming back to his favourite characters: is the bond between two people enough to overcome the obstacles life throws at you?

In previous outings for Bobby and Tina, that appears to be the case.  In The Crowd however, Walker takes a step further, by asserting that even when presented with an opportunity to move beyond their dead end lives, they would still choose each other. That might be an indication of the love they have, but one has to wonder, at least in the context of The Crowd, just what Bobby and Tina think they are gaining by not taking the proffered way out. Noble and ultimately human perhaps, on balance it makes about as much sense as how these two have managed to survive together all these years.

At its best when Walker jumps down his rabbit hole, the energy created by The Crowd’s inexplicable turns is never quite matched in its more real moments. The result is an unevenness that often stalls the action in its short 75 minutes, and while those audience members that have history with Bobby and Tina may have an established emotional connection, for the rest, the real fun is down the hole.

Despite its unevenness, there is plenty to like about this cast, who each had their character written for them by Walker in this commissioned piece.

Returning Studio 58 grad Leslie Jones, who also happened to originate the role of Tina in Tough!, goes for broke as the undercover cop and delivers. And boy does she know how to wield a pool noodle.

Under Patrick McDonald’s direction, there are some wonderful physical performances from Nathan Kay as the dimwitted man-boy, Bobby, and from the trio of losers played by Scott McGowan, Gregory Radzimowki and Conor Stinson O’Gorman.

Helping to ground things in some semblance of reality is a confident Camille Legg, and the pragmatic Raylene Harewood as Jill.

Conor Stinson O’Gorman as Sonny, Nathan Kay as Bobby and Gregory Radzimowski as Willie in the Studio 58 production of The Crowd. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Conor Stinson O’Gorman as Sonny, Nathan Kay as Bobby and Gregory Radzimowski as Willie in the Studio 58 production of The Crowd. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Set designer Pam Johnson, who marks her 26th production for Studio 58 with The Crowd, gives us an Easter egg hunt of recycled elements from recent and far flung shows (although to be fair if it had not been pointed out by the publicist before the start of the show, I’m not convinced I would have been the wiser).

Since Walker refuses to wrap things up in the ongoing Bobby and Tina saga, there is little doubt this will not be the last we see of these two. After all, Bobby just never seems to learn.

The Crowd by George F Walker. Directed by Patrick McDonald. A Studio 58 production in association with Green Thumb Theatre. On stage at Studio 58 (100 West 49th Ave, Vancouver) until April 3. Visit for tickets and information.

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