Created by Torquil Campbell and Chris Abraham, in collaboration with Julian Brown. Directed by Chris Abraham. A Castleton Massive production, presented by the Arts Club Theatre Company and Crow’s Theatre. At the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on Wednesday, February 6. Continues until February 24
“I’m doing it for you,” Torquil Campbell says near the end of his new solo show, True Crime. Well, a version of Campbell says this. Throughout the play’s 95 minutes, the audience engages with multiple versions of Campbell, which is appropriate because the inspiration for True Crime is a man of many aliases who, most infamously, spent more than a decade passing himself off as Clark Rockefeller.
Rockefeller was actually Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, an aspiring actor from Germany with a fixation on his version of the American dream. Gerhartsreiter is in prison now, convicted of both kidnapping and murder, but he spent decades scamming and scheming his way through life and eventually into New York City’s most affluent circles. He wanted money and power, and in 1995, few names in America’s capitalist-colonizer royalty carried as much cachet as Rockefeller.
Campbell draws parallels between himself and Gerhartsreiter as a foundation for his obsession with the con man, identifying the narcissism and engaging with it, but never quite fully owning it. The two men look alike, right down to the square glasses. They’re both big fans of Patricia Highsmith’s writing—of course—and they lived in New York at the same time in the ’90s, aspiring actors who were trying to reinvent themselves. Campbell, who comes from an acting family that goes back more than a century, hoped to live up to his legacy, while Gerhartsreiter was desperately in search of one. “I lived in fear of that city revealing me as a fake and sending me away,” Campbell says. “And in a way it did.”
True Crime marks Campbell’s return to the theatre, after he stepped away in the early aughts to be the co–lead singer and songwriter of the successful Canadian indie-pop band Stars. He’s a dynamic and engaging presence on-stage and this is an ambitious production. It’s funny and thought-provoking, and it successfully builds tension and suspense. There are some truly chilling moments, which is what we want when Highsmith’s name is invoked numerous times. True Crime is at its best when it’s taut and creepy and self-aware. But then it goes past the 70-minute mark, and things drag. In part, this is because it presents three or four false endings, and is at its most meta and unnecessarily moralistic.
Campbell’s writing and performance are compelling, though, especially when he’s interrogating himself, his motivations, and his relationship to the story of Gerhartsreiter.