february 2019 | Volume 176
Torquil Campbell. Design by Remington North. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.
by Torquil Campbell and Chris Abraham, in collaboration with Julian Brown
The Castleton Massive production
Arts Club Theatre Company and Crow’s Theatre
BMO Theatre Centre
Jan. 31–Feb. 24
www.artsclub.com or 604-687-1644
Torquil Campbell’s True Crime is a shaggy dog story presented in Fringe Festival style on a bare stage with only a microphone and podium.
Accompanied by Julian Brown noodling on electric guitar, Campbell plays many characters including himself as he chats with the audience about his obsession and entanglement with con man Clark Rockefeller (real name Christian Gerhartsreiter: Google him) aka a host of other false identities.
An aficionado of true crime TV, Campbell first became aware of Rockefeller (then called Christopher Chichester) from an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. Sixteen years later, he learned of Rockefeller’s arrest and noticed their physical resemblance. Sometime after that, Campbell, originally an actor, then a musician, resolved to do theatre again by writing and performing a play about Gerhartsreiter/Rockefeller and himself.
We know all this because this narrative is part of the play. Along with detailing the complicated history of Gerhartsleiter’s frauds and probably murders, Campbell tells us a lot about himself. His real-life wife, actress Moya O’Connell, and late father, the famous actor Douglas Campbell, also become part of the story.
Most of the second half involves a series of visits Campbell made to the California prison where Gerhartsleiter is incarcerated, and his interviews with the slippery criminal.
As he cuts back and forth between biography and autobiography, confession and a curious blend of appeal and accusation to the audience (he needs us, he’s doing it all for us, we’re all implicated), we start to wonder how much of his story is true. All of it? Any of it?
Campbell is a skilled actor and an even better singer. The few songs he sings, one especially in which he barks, an effect courtesy of Gerhartsleiter’s intervention he tells us, are highlights.
My problem is that neither Gerhartleiter’s story and character nor Campbell’s, nor their combination, held me for the show’s 90 minutes. I’m not generally a fan of theatre in which the narrative is entwined with the writer’s or performer’s autobiography, a scenario I’ve found problematic before in director Chris Abraham’s work on Annabel Soutar’s Seeds and The Watershed.
Gerhartsleiter, as played by Campbell, ranges from obnoxious to repulsive. And as he presents himself here, Campbell himself isn’t particularly likeable either, given his puppy-like obsession with the slimebag and his self-abasing relation to the audience.
Given no one to root for, I found True Crime a hard sell.
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