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Something Red

CTE photo
Tom Walmsley

Drama in two acts by Tom Walmsley, first produced at the New Play Centre (now Playwrights Theatre Centre), October 6, 1978, directed by Kathryn Shaw. It featured Michael Hogan, Tom McBeath, Rosemary Dunsmore and Michelle Fisk. Subsequently produced at Tarragon Theatre, January 10, 1980, directed by Guy Sprung with Hogan, Richard Monette, Karen Wiens and Sarah Torgov. It has been produced across the country and in French at the Théâtre de la Manufacture.

Born of Walmsley's dark past, the work could as easily be called "A Nightmare in Two Acts" as what begins as a soirée between two couples finishes in utter horror. However, there is little surprise at the end, as it has been effectively foreshadowed by everything the protagonist says and does.

Bobby and Christine live downstairs from their friends Alex and Elizabeth (we see action in both apartments). Bobby is a poet with a bitter past and is presently being hunted by a variety of vicious people. He speaks with an edge, his banter is brittle, his memories of his, mostly illegal, past a little too roseate. His girlfriend is in a dead-end job and also has a fraught past. Alex, however, who wandered with Bobby before, now wants to settle down, works and is even working on a novel. The catalyst for catastrophe, however, is Elizabeth; she is a student, from money, with a taste for Bobby's dark side. The foursome get together for an evening which turns violent. Revelations explode in everyone's face and the second act, pitch-black compared to the first, is actually a taut, psycho-sexual thriller involving a Chekhovian gun and promises of suicide or murder. The suspense is unrelenting.

Masterfully written, evidence of this work can still be seen in playwriting today: the works of Judith Thompson (Lion in the Streets, White Biting Dog), Brad Fraser (The Ugly Man) and George F. Walker (Criminals in Love and, especially, the Suburban Motel series) all carry traces of the vision - in plotting and atmospherics - which exists in this play.

However this is a patently adult work which has little of the garishness/histrionics of the plays it influenced. It is ripe for revival.

The play was considerably ahead of its time, and the reviews for its Vancouver production were not positive; the Toronto production was greeted with mixed reviews. Ray Conlogue, writing for The Globe and Mail, was caught off guard: "Do you like to be scared till your knuckles turn white? Then go see Tom Walmsley 's Something Red at the Tarragon Theatre. It is part of what a biography in another of his works calls a life-long love affair with heroin and sadomasochism, a world he knows like Amin knew his torture chambers...But Walmsley, a self-styled derogator of straight society, purports to be more than a thrillmaster. He has yet to prove it. He reveals much about sadomasochism, but I suspect that Elizabeth's fascination with it is much akin to the fascination of a Canadian audience with this play. When one is spoiled and affluent and terrified of being boring, there's nothing like a brief dalliance with a maniac. As such, this play is part of our adolescence: a reaction against the Question Periods and Love and Politics of our theatrical literature. But, like Bobby himself, it sinks back into its own morass without revealing anything."

Readings: Tom Walmsley. Something Red. Toronto: Virgo Press, 1980.

Commentary by Gaetan Charlebois

Last updated 2012-02-19