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Suburban Motel

Six-play cycle by George F. Walker, consisting of Problem Child, Adult Entertainment, Criminal Genius, Featuring Loretta, The End of Civilization, and Risk Everything. The plays were first produced either at Theatre Off Park, New York, by Rattlesnake Productions and directed by Daniel De Raey (Problem Child, Criminal Genius, Risk Everything) in 1997, or at the Factory Theatre, 1998, directed by the author. Actors in the Toronto performances included Kristen Thomson, Layne Coleman, Ted Dykstra, Richard Greenblatt, Shawn Alex Thompson, Shawn Doyle, James Kidnie, Nola Augustson, and Karen Robinson. The cycle is published by Talon, Vancouver.

French translations, by Maryse Warda, of four of the plays (Problem, Adult, Criminal, End of...) were presented as part of the 1998-99 and 1999/2000 Théâtre de Quat'Sous seasons. Parts or all of the cycle were subsequently played across the country including at Vancouver East Cultural Centre (March ,1999) and Sudbury Theatre Centre (February, 2000). The End... won the Chalmers Award in 1999. Problem won a Masque Award in February, 2000 as Best Production (Montreal).

The plays can be played separately, as each is a full-length one-act work consisting of several scenes. However, they all touch on similar themes, have through-lines uniting them and, occasionally, characters which reappear from one play to another. The setting is always the same, "A slightly run-down motel on the outskirts of a large city." Together they reaffirm Walker's mistrust of "The System" and each is a grimly humourous (sometimes riotous) examination of the underclass. Themes which unite the entire cycle are those of innocence/naïveté/stupidity; questions of adult families in the underclass; the study of a world where rage often substitutes for communication because the people are simply not able to put emotions, frustrations or dreams into words. Finally, we rediscover the Walker of other works like Criminals in Love: the broad, yet truthful plotting, and the snappy dialogue composed of vivid, imaginative vulgarity.

Problem Child tells the story of an ex-prostitute and drug-addict and her significant other, a TV-addicted ex-con, trying to deal with a by-the-book social worker in order to get her child back from the system. Violence, as with all the plays in the cycle, is a constant presence. The work contains perhaps the most hilarious surprise of the entire cycle.

Adult Entertainment begins with a couple having sex and we learn he is a married policeman, she a lawyer and that the sex is part of a deal both are trying to make. Meanwhile, the cop's partner, a drunk, waits in a car in the motel's parking lot. We learn that the partner is having marital problems, that the two policeman have a difficult (and perhaps dangerous) relationship, and that we will have to pass through bloody chaos before reaching anything faintly resembling resolution.

Criminal Genius tells of a father with a 35-year criminal record and his son, both involved in a complex crime. Both are anti-violence but the masterminds of the impending criminal wars, both women (and one of whom was a "victim"), have no such fear of violence. Again, as with all the plays, there are moments which are oddly touching and which gentle the madness of the rhythm and plot. Here, it is the strange relationship between father and son. The ending, wildly violent, is also virtually inevitable.

Featuring Loretta tells of a waitress caught between two men, one in love with her and one who wants to exploit her fantastic body for pornography. But her problems don't end there: she's pregnant (and not with the child of her recently dead husband who was devoured by a bear) and she is striking up a peculiar friendship with the maid (who is a physics student and the daughter of a KGB kingpin). We are led to enjoy the characters and are left to imagine resolution.

The End of Civilization is the grimmest of the series, telling of a bizarre love triangle among a man and his wife and a policeman who is investigating the man for a particularly heinous crime. The aura of hopelessness which surrounds all of the works is particularly thick in this work. The structure of the work is also different from the others; games are played with time, bringing us back to the key scene which illuminates all which precedes it.

Risk Everything brings back the parents of Problem Child. Here, though, they play second-fiddle to the young woman's mother who has just been brutalized in what may have been domestic violence but which turns out to be because of the older woman's gambling and thieving. The mother has an amazing talent for roping everyone into her chaotic and dangerous world. Returning, also, is the pornographer of Featuring Loretta who is attracted to the mother. High-flying, loose and funnier than most of the other plays in the series, it is also the least skillfully written, with too much of the play riding on the outrageousness of the mother and less of the humanity which marks the other plays (even in their most silly moments).

Critical and audience reaction to the plays has been positive. Geoff Chapman of The Toronto Star wrote (of Problem and Adult), "...Walker has laid strong claim to the title of English-speaking Canada's leading playwright." John Colbourn of The Sun wrote (of Problem), "You may not like this play or these people, but you'll react to them and the profane squalor from which they spring - and, in the process, if you're lucky and brutally honest, you'll get to know yourself a little better." Of Problem and Adult, Kate Taylor of The Globe and Mail wrote, "Not since Tom Walmsley's Blood brought the same kind of dark hilarity to the theatre two years ago has a Factory audience been offered such a reason to rejoice."

Commentary by Gaetan Charlebois. Additional information provided by David Baile.

Last updated 2011-10-12