Of all the shows at Pacific Theatre this season, THE WOODSMAN is the one that people might be most likely to miss. Well, I saw the opening last night, and... Don't. Don't you dare miss it.
It's simply a beautiful, beautiful play. Yes, it has a heart-in-your throat edge to it: at one point I happened to reflect on my own emotional state, and thought "How odd: I'm not having an emotional reaction to this", only to notice that I could literally feel the blood pounding in the veins in my neck. A gripping piece of work. But I was mostly struck not with how difficult it was to watch, or how scandalous, but almost the opposite: how much attention had been paid to every tiny detail of production, performance, design, timing, and how that reflected the respect and reverence, tenderness, care, grace, and prayer that surrounds the show. The maturity of the work, both aesthetically and in terms of the sensibilities of the artist who have worked together to shape it and craft the tiniest details of sound, lighting, motion, gesture. There isn't a moment from beginning to end that speaks of exploitation, shock, scandal, tawdriness: it embodies the opposite of each of those words.
Here's the first of what I expect will be many responses from audience members, this from the worship arts director of an evangelical church in Langley; "Just wanted to say thank you for the free tickets to see the Woodsman last night. Brilliant show, went to bed thinking about it, woke up thinking about it, and the more I think the more I relish it! Every time I’m at Pacific Theatre I see something that feeds my soul...thanks for bringing truth and beauty to our city!" Not, perhaps, what you expected?
The show is Georgia Straight's Pick Of The Week: "You might never know it from all the hatred being spewed in the name of God these days, but at its best, Christianity—like theatre—is about compassion. And compassion can be extremely difficult to muster. By producing Steven Fechter’s The Woodsman, Pacific Theatre, which is a Christian company, is asking us what it might be like to be a pedophile. Dirk van stralen plays Walter, a quiet guy who has served his time and is back in the community—but the only place he can find to rent is across from a school, and his demons won’t let him be. The show runs from April 4 to 26 at Pacific Theatre and there will be nightly talk-back sessions hosted by Circles of Support and Accountability, a community organization that claims to have reduced incidents of re-offending by 80 percent."
And Vancouver Magazine's Pick Of The Month. The whole text is at our blog (www.soulfoodvancouver.blogspot.com), but here's an excerpt of what editor Matt O'Grady has to say: "The play—part of Pacific Theatre’s series of film-related dramas—was turned into a 2004 movie starring Kevin Bacon and, in keeping with Pacific’s long-standing examination of Christian values, provides no easy answers or morals. 'For an audience of the film or play, they’re particularly challenged because they’re given a man who seems, in all respects, rather decent,” says playwright Steven Fechter, “except that he has, in his past, done this really horrible thing. The question is, Does every person deserve a second chance? How forgiving, as a society, are we? And are there some things that are ultimately unforgivable?'"
It is specifically because of the understandable impulse to avoid this subject matter that I particularly encourage you to see this production. It is challenging shows like this and GRACE and ESPRESSO which - in a sort of dynamic tension with works like A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and SHADOWLANDS and COTTON PATCH GOSPEL - define the essence of our company. If you skip this one, you miss one of our landmark shows.
Last thought: If this WOODSMAN is scandalous, it's the scandal of grace.