“Reflections on Crooked Walking” brings joy back to the theatre

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      If there’s one thing the world needs more of right now, it’s joy.

      I don’t need to list out all the shit that’s going wrong in the world, or how it’s affecting our collective mental health—we’re all well aware. What we’re maybe less aware of, though, is how to escape the endless cycle of bad news, even for just a few hours.

      Art is a form of activism, and resistance, and that means a lot of it ends up being heavy. There is undoubtedly a need and a place for that. But sometimes it’s also nice to be fed some candy-coated chocolate. It’s the Oppenheimer versus Barbie debate: do you want to be depressed and impressed, or do you want to have fun?

      Reflections on Crooked Walking is a point for the latter camp. This Juno-nominated musical puts joy at the forefront from the second the curtains pull open. It’s immediately evident to me, not just in the set and the costumes and the actors and the lyrics, but in the way the audience of (mostly) adults at the Firehall Arts Centre is reacting: with unbridled laughter.

      Written by composer and songwriter (and member of the Order of Canada) Ann Mortifee, the musical follows four people who find themselves awake while the rest of their town has fallen to a mysterious sleeping sickness. They embark on a fantastical quest to find the cure, and along the way discover something much more valuable.

      Mortifee actually wrote the show in a Whistler cabin back in her twenties, and it premiered shortly after as an Arts Club production. (Some of the original cast members, undoubtedly a few of the people who are laughing the hardest, are in the audience to cheer on the next iteration.)

      “It was a personal journey of seeking,” Mortifee says to me via video call prior to the show. “Because when I looked around, it felt like the world was asleep, and I couldn’t find many people to take the journey with me.”

      An exploration ofMortifee’s own psyche—the dark versus the light, the analytical versus the emotional—Reflections on Crooked Walking uses doorways as a symbolic (and literal) mind-opener. They appear throughout the story in diffrent places, allowing the characters to transform little by little as they walk through.

      I ask Mortifee what it’s like to revisit a work that was created by a much younger version of herself.

      “I can’t say I’ve dismissed it, but I’ve always been moving forward, moving forward, moving forward,” she reflects. “When I look back at my 20-year-old self, I like her. She really meant well. She worked hard. She cared a lot. So when I reread the script to get it for Donna [Spencer] at the Firehall, I went, ‘I still believe these things. Nothing has really changed. Wow, I still love these characters. They still make me laugh.’”

      Laughter is the throughline of the musical, with each actor delivering chuckle-worthy lines both in dialogue and in song (special shout-out to an ensemble member who gave a particularly memorable performance as a Latin flamingo). If there’s one thing we can learn from Reflections on Crooked Walking, it’s that laughter will at least ease the pain.

      As for what the show has taught Mortifee herself, she doesn’t skip a beat: “That there will always be another doorway.”

      Reflections on Crooked Walking

      To December 24

      Where: Firehall Arts Centre

      Tickets: Available here