— Production photo
Bruce Horak’s solo show, produced by Monster Theatre and directed by Ryan Gladstone, is another example of a phenomenon that has become extremely popular in the last couple of years—a mainstage run of a former Fringe show. On a virtually bare set the performer tells the audience a multidimensional story. In the case of Assassinating Thomson the house lights never even come down.
The main dimensions of Horak’s show are these: 1) He’s legally blind; as a result of childhood cancers of the eye, Horak has only 9% vision. 2) In addition to being an actor, he’s a painter. During the course of his narrative he paints a portrait of the audience, for sale at the end of the show. 3) He became obsessed with Canadian painter Tom Thomson, and he shares with us his multiple possible scenarios for explaining Thomson’s mysterious death in 1917.
Horak is a charming guy and his informal narrative is chatty and relaxed. (“Emily Carr—what a nut job!”) He intercuts the autobiographical tale recounting his journey to becoming a visually impaired painter and his adventures along the way with an informal history of modernist Canadian art focusing on the Group of Seven and Thomson. Projections on a screen behind Horak and his easel provide visual illustrations of the art and the key figures in Thomson’s story as well as lessons about perception from the book that most influenced Horak as an artist, Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
A modest, understated show that whips by in 80 minutes, Assassinating Thomson (a curious title) never pushes its message or tries too hard to generate sympathy or pathos. It tells stories worth hearing about art, vision, and what it means to be special.