Assassinating Thomson's smart look at seeing sometimes lacks emotional resonance
By Bruce Horak. Directed by Ryan Gladstone. A Monster Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, October 10. Continues until October 19
“You know what, man? Nobody sees like you.” In Assassinating Thomson, Bruce Horak, who’s legally blind, says this to a kid who, like him, has nine percent vision. That’s the point of the show: we all see things differently and it’s important to relish the pleasures of our viewpoints—to keep looking, to suspend our grief over whatever losses we’ve suffered and give ourselves over to the sensuality and creativity of the moment. Fair enough. Unfortunately, Horak wraps this insight in layers of flat analogy.
I’m not saying this solo show’s not smart, because it is. Horak paints a group image of the audience as he speaks to us, creating the casual intimacy of a portrait sitting—and embodying his thematic concerns. And as he chats, he riffs on the mysterious death of Tom Thomson, a precursor of the Group of Seven, who died in 1917 while canoeing in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. The coroner declared Thomson’s death an accidental drowning, but Horak delves into several of the murder theories that surround the painter’s demise. Again: multiple perspectives, creativity, and the pleasure of inquiry.
But Horak doesn’t provide a compelling reason to care about any of this. The writer lost more than 90 percent of his vision to cancer when he was an infant, but, outwardly buoyant and self-assured, he never lets us feel his sorrow. I understand that he might not want to present himself as a victim, but the emotional impact of his loss is central to the successful realization of the show’s dynamics—and it’s missing.
Horak doesn’t give us much reason to care about the Thomson mystery, either. He cites a lot of goofy coincidences that supposedly tie him to the painter: both doodled in hymnals when they were kids, both moved to Toronto when they were 26. But so what? There’s no emotional juice here.
With his amiably droll delivery, Horak is a charming performer (although the tone never varies in this production, which was directed by Ryan Gladstone). And as the structure of this show demonstrates, he’s an intelligent and original creator. But you need more than charm and smarts to engage an audience; you also need emotional audacity.