by Raul Sanchez Inglis
Beaumont Studios, 315 W. 5th Ave.
July 13-23

Fresh off the success of In the Eyes of God, his wicked satire of Hollywood venality and immorality, Vancouver playwright/director Raul Sanchez Inglis tackles the American justice system in his new show, Walter. A member of organizations that lobby against capital punishment and defend the rights of Death Row inmates in the United States, Inglis intends Walter as an exposé of how transparently immoral and unjust that system is.

The documentary script draws on the prison letters of Virginian Walter Correll, executed in 1996 for a murder the play argues he obviously didn’t commit. Scott Miller, terrific as a sleazy agent in In the Eyes of God, plays Walter with technical skill and emotional conviction, sustaining our interest throughout a shapeless 90 minute monologue on a bare stage with no props.

In a convincing southern accent against a hard rock soundtrack, Miller tells Walter’s pathetic story in all its familiar details. Growing up poor in an abusive family and a worse foster home, he quits school and gets into booze, drugs and petty crime. He becomes an addict and a dealer, spends time in jail and in a co-dependent relationship. Nobody loves him. Finally, he’s framed for murder.

More than half the play is taken up with the mundane circumstances of Walter’s sad, sad life. But if the intention is to portray him as a victim—of a dysfunctional family and society, of fate, bad luck or an astonishingly low IQ—it succeeds only in spreading the blame among so many factors that we can only conclude no one is really responsible. The false murder rap seems a logical conclusion to Walter’s slide into the abyss but its details remain vague and its perpetrators mostly anonymous.

A more serious problem is the lack of narrative artistry. In his director’s notes Inglis insists that “it was essential to stay true to [Walter’s] story and his writing style.” Unfortunately, Walter wasn’t a very good writer. His autobiography has no dramatic arc and little poetry or humour. There’s far too much repetition and time spent on petty details that have no dramatic payoff.

Though sharing the same structural and aesthetic problems, the last third of the play is more successful. We learn the awful details of Walter’s dilemma—bullied into a false confession, assigned a criminally incompetent defense attorney, faced with judges who ignore evidence. Less effectively, Walter hectors us with arguments about the barbarity of the justice system and legal execution.

Ironically, his nine years on Death Row are the best years of his life. We’re so glad that Walter finally makes some real friends. Then, just as he does, the state kills them. That’s not really an indictment of the system comparable to its conviction and murder of the innocent Walter. But emotionally, it’s the play’s strongest argument against capital punishment.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Thursday, July 14, 2005 8:27 PM
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