The set of the world premiere of Looking Back – West at the MTC Warehouse Theatre is striking to say the least. A large war monument in the centre of the stage is framed by two simple picnic benches against a backdrop of screens portraying the peaceful greenery of New York City’s Madison Square Park. This human construction of nature, along with the contrast between the intimidating monument and the quiet park, dominates the themes throughout Robert Lewis Vaughan’s bittersweet play.
The one-man play follows young teenager Perry for a period during his life when he runs away from home and his abusive father. The entire show is narrated by Perry himself. It is a testament to the skill of the playwright, of director Steven Schipper and of actor Eric Blais (played by Carmen Melillo on alternating nights) that the audience can “see” each imaginative scene as it happens. All that is really seen is the man holding a drink and moving from standing to seated positions as he tells his story.
Blais is convincing as young Perry, an innocent boy forced to deal with harsh adult realities before his time. The nervous ticks of finger tapping and leg shaking are spot on, as are Blais’s change in tone and word choice, depending on which part of the story he is recounting.
An endearing personality with a love of animals and a longing for friendship, Perry’s character makes the audience laugh, smile and sigh in empathy. It is a highly emotive performance capturing the hardships that even the young must face.
The script conveys raw emotion within its enrapturing narrative form. Playwright Robert Lewis Vaughan uses an effective conversational writing style. Even though a few of the lines border on cliché, overall, the writing flows so gracefully that the audience can easily lose themselves in the sad yet inspiring tale. Although Blais fumbled a couple lines in the second act, his delivery in the first act was perfect, and he performed with such feeling that the slips did not detract from the play.
Looking Back – West reminds us that there is always more to people than what we see on the surface and that no matter how dark some moments of our lives may be, there is always hope that we will rise from it stronger and more capable than before.
Published in Volume 64, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 4, 2010)