The late 1990s. Prolific Canadian playwright George F. Walker was living in Vancouver, spending his days at a library, when he wrote plays on pads of yellow legal paper. They were all set in the same motel room. He allowed characters to enter the motel room, then, as their stories emerged, he wrote them down. He completed six of these plays before had to return to Toronto to help out with The Newsroom, a hit TV show at the time. Soon he found himself directing all six of these odd little plays in one season at The Factory. And before long they were published as a collection, Suburban Motel, that’s been wildly popular ever since.
What Walker came up with was a treasure chest of hilarious, seedy, often violent plays – each of them a story about desperate people at the end of their ropes trying to get by in a world that doesn’t quite want them.
Call them misfits, or lowlifes, or criminals if you will. When it comes right down to it, they’re just human beings like us.
Post Productions is bringing one of the best plays in this collection – Criminal Genius – to life at The Shadowbox Theatre for a three-week run beginning July 23rd. The story starts off with two small-time crooks, father-son duo Rolly (Michael K. Potter) and Stevie (Nikolas Prsa). They’re on edge, anxiously awaiting something . . . or someone. There’s a knock at the door, but it’s just the motel manager, Phillie Phillips (Joey Ouellette). Turns out Rolly and Stevie were supposed to check out two hours ago. They need to either pay up for another night or check out. But they can’t do the former because they’re broke, and they can’t do the latter because they need to meet their boss in this room. They buy time by giving Phillie something he can keep as collateral until they can get the money. Then their boss, Shirley (Fay Lynn), arrives – and she’s pissed. Rolly and Stevie didn’t carry out the plan they were supposed to – torching a restaurant – and she demands to know what’s going on. That’s when Rolly and Stevie reveal they’ve kidnapped the restaurant’s cook, Amanda Castle (Rebecca S. Mickle). This disastrous decision sets in motion a chain of deadly and hilarious events that none of this motley crew sees coming.
Criminal Genius is about plans. Wait, no, it’s about having to improvise plans in the heat of the moment. Wait, sorry, no . . . it’s about what to do when plans go sideways. No, that’s not quite right – it’s about what we’re forced to accept when all of our plans have failed and we’re caught in a trap with no plan at all.
Really, it’s about all of these things. But at a deeper level it’s about what happens when nobody’s willing to step up and take responsibility for their mistakes. We all make mistakes, right? You know I make mistakes, I know you make mistakes, and we assume everyone else does too. So it should be easy for us to say “my bad” and own up to what we’ve done wrong. But a lot of the time it isn’t.
What gets in the way? Fear of the consequences, a lot of the time. We’re afraid we’ll be punished, or that people won’t like us. And sometimes ego gets in the way, too; we don’t always like to admit we’ve screwed up, or maybe we’ll admit we screw up sometimes but hey, not in this case, not today.
But sometimes the answer is simpler: we’re not the geniuses we thought we were, and we’re just too dumb to see that. At least in the moment. I’ve been that guy. Maybe you have, too.
We’ve witnessed a lot of mistakes in the last year and a half, most of them small and harmless, some of them pretty huge. We see them in the news every day. We see their consequences. We see one mistake followed by another mistake followed by another – and at some point we have to wonder whether most of what happens in the world is a mistake. Maybe those times when things go as planned, maybe those are the outliers. Maybe we should own up to that.
Anyway, you won’t be making a mistake by seeing Criminal Genius live and in person. Live venues and performing artists of all kinds took a huge hit during the pandemic, but they’re back and ready to give you the most entertainment possible for ticket dollar.
Criminal Genius by George F. Walker will be performed live at The Shadowbox Theatre July 23, 24, 29, 30, 31; August 5, 6, 7. All performances 8:00 pm (doors open 7:30 pm). Tickets are $25, available online-only at postproductionswindsor.ca while supplies last. Seating may be limited due to provincial restrictions.