The Woodsman by Steven Fechter
Closes Apr 26, Pacific Theatre
Erin Jane, reviewVancouver
Steven Fechter’s The Woodsman isn’t the easiest play to enjoy, not in small part because of its controversial subject matter. A convicted pedophile begins his rehabilitation, and takes on the challenges and difficulties of new relationships, society, and his own self-loathing. In spite of what most would consider a rather disturbing or unsettling play, The Woodsman takes its subject matter head-on and triumphantly succeeds in achieving what I think it sets out to achieve, which is to illuminate one man’s humanity and redemption, even in his darkest place.
The Woodsman is powerful because it shows its audience the human being inside the monster. It sheds light on an issue of which most of us are either largely ignorant or aggressively judgmental, and explores the psychological burden of being tormented with pedophilic desires. Walter is a surprisingly and enormously empathetic character, and is played by Dirk van Stralen who portrays Walter’s struggle for control and for normalcy deftly and intimately.
The Woodsman is uniquely fortunate to have a brilliant four-person cast of actors that shine in their roles, without exception. Michael Kopsa tackles three roles himself: Walter’s therapist, brother-in-low, and threatening police officer who makes sure Walter is still paying for his crimes. Kopsa easily flows into each role with utterly seamless changes, and his “triality” of characters in no way disrupts the spellbinding nature of the play.
The young Camille Beaudoin is remarkably confident and mature in her portrayal of a young girl who at times haunts and at times interacts with Walter. Rebecca de Boer plays Walter’s love interest, Nikki, who supports him despite an abhorrent past he can’t seem to escape. Against all odds (in fact as Nikki says at one point during the play, “odds are bullshit”), Walter is able to carry on fighting his demons with his girlfriend and therapist at his side, two grace-filled people who (as Director Morris Ertman says) show faith in those who do not have the capacity for faith in themselves.
The set design at first appearance looks like a small clearing in a forest, with piles of leaves and a few chairs, table, and a couple of boxes. This is where Walter lives. On second look, the leaves are actually furled pictures of children, little girls, and we realize that the stage is set up to remind us of the constant presence and shame of the affliction from which Walter is suffering, and the psychological burden of his sexual desires.
When I read that Pacific Theatre’s Artistic Director Ron Reed had said, “The play goes to a very dark place. I don’t know if it goes too far, or if it doesn’t go far enough, but I’m glad it has the courage to go where it does,” it was a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agreed. Experts in the field of sexual dysfunction have stated a belief that pedophilia could potentially be successfully treated, if only the medical community would give it more attention.
Pacific Theatre’s The Woodsman in no way attempts to be political, but nevertheless, I applaud Pacific Theatre and its brilliant cast for taking on the challenge and succeeding.