“Walter” full-length video is now on YouTube

Artword Theatre has completed editing the full-length performance video of “Walter” recorded on March 12, 2020, starring Sean Emberley as Walter. The YouTube premiere release was Thursday July 30, 2020 at 7:30 pm. The video is now available to watch any time. Runs 70 minutes.
Watch the Walter video on Artword Theatre YouTube channel
Some advance comments for the video: “Wonderful.” “Moving.” “Incredible actor.” “So powerful.” “Absolutely wonderful!” “A powerful film.”

Reviews of the stage performance March 2020:

#1 Review Mar 11, 2020 by Jeff Mahoney, The Hamilton Spectator 
Walter is a moving look at schizophrenia. … Sean Emberley, in the title role, is engrossing, so completely does he inhabit this complex, confusing but ultimately compelling character. You feel not so much that you’re seeing him onstage but passing him on the street. Emberley’s remarkable achievement is that he lifts our engagement with Walter beyond the stare of curiosity, albeit sympathetic, into a trance in which we begin to identify with the struggle of his being. It’s partly the play of his eyes and the mobile features of his face and his movements across the stage, by turns agitated and sedate. It’s also his voice, wounded but also strangely hypnotic. And aside from his own, there are the voices “in his head,” as the expression goes, which we get to hear along with him, thanks to the soundscape by Dave Gould. …
…We get a vivid sense of the immense difficulties of Walter’s life but also of his humanity and his uneasy truce with life, ….  The play is informed by playwright Dawson’s 50 years in psychiatry, treating schizophrenia. And the words are lit with both knowledge and compassion, which comes through as Walter soliloquizes himself over the barriers we put up against the ‘different.’ This very powerful production is directed by Ronald Weihs.”

#2 Review March 12, 2020 by Tamara Kamermans View Magazine

“… In the central role, [Sean Emberley] is captivating as he embodies the many ages of Walter. As a young man, we see his angst and then terror upon realizing is trajectory into the mental health system, then, as he ages, his new struggles with the system and the balance of medication. Emberley never once over sentimentalizes; instead, he allows the emotional reaction to resonate with the audience member. He simply tells the story as a grippingly real person. He leaves the richness and the ironies to his audience to ruminate. …
His performance is like a poem. It’s presented with simplicity but has as many meanings as there are seats in the audience. He’s like the face of everyman with a mental illness. … It’s impossible not be emotionally touched by his presentation and each and every audience member will be remembering their own Walter as the stage lights go down.”

Walter: by David Laing Dawson, March 4-13, 2020 [Mar 14 cancelled]

“My name is Walter James Cross, and I have schizophrenia.”

Walter, a new Artword Theatre production, starring Sean Emberley, written by David Laing Dawson, directed by Ronald Weihs, soundscape by Dave Gould, produced by Gallery on the Bay and Artword Theatre. March 4-14, 2020. Venue: St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church (St. Andrew’s Hall), 70 James St South at Jackson.
Performance dates:
March 4 to 7 at 7:30 pm. March 11 to 14 at 7:30 pm, $20.
PLUS matinees PWYC, Sat Mar 7 and Sat Mar 14 at 2:30 pm.
[March 14 shows cancelled due to Cover-19 concerns.]
Call 905-543-8512, or email artword@artword.net for ticket reservations.

“… I take out all my friends and place them on the table in front of me and I line them up like a lot of little soldiers and I read the labels over and over again:  Chlorpromazine, perphenazine, Olanzapine, benztropine, clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, amitriptyline, paroxetine….
the zeens, the teens, the pams, and the peens….
the zeens, the teens, the pams, and the peens … “


David Laing Dawson (playwright) is a psychiatrist, formerly medical director Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital, the co-owner of Gallery on the Bay and the author of six novels, four non-fiction books, and ten plays. He co-authors a blog on mental health, mental illness, politics and life, on WordPress called Mind You.

Playwright’s Statement about Walter: “Walter James Cross is a fictional character and my invention. Yet I invented nothing he says or has experienced. These are an accumulation, a synthesis, of much of what I have heard from people suffering from schizophrenia over the past 50 years. The suffering is real, the experiences are real, only the form of story telling is invented by author and director.
I first wrote this script as a film, produced and broadcast on TVO almost 20 years ago. Ronald Weihs has re-imagined Walter as a live performance.”  David Dawson, March, 2020.


Director’s Statement: This production initiates a new phase for Artword Theatre. Judith Sandiford and I have been doing theatre together since 1980. In 1993, we started a small theatre called Artword Theatre, and in 2000 we opened a much larger complex with two theatre spaces and an art gallery. We lost that theatre to condo development in 2006. In 2007, we moved to Hamilton, and in 2008-9, we put on four plays at the Pearl Company. In 2009, we started Artword Artbar, and put on plays there for ten glorious years. Then it was time for a change. We sold Artword Artbar and started looking around.
We are delighted to have found St. Andrew’s Hall at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. The people here are friendly and accommodating, and the building is a treasure. We’d especially like to thank Rev. Fred Shaffer, David Church, Christina Babcock and Ruparian “Syd” Sydney for making us feel at home.
We have begun an informal ongoing collaboration with David and Marlaise Dawson, of Gallery on the Bay. Walter is the third play by David that I have directed, and there is a new musical in the works for the fall. Stay tuned.                 Ronald Weihs, March, 2020


 

 

“Walter” full reviews, Mar 2020

“Sean Emberley, in the title role, is engrossing, so completely does he inhabit this complex, confusing but ultimately compelling character.”

“His performance is like a poem. … He’s like the face of everyman with a mental illness.”


#1:  WHATSON Mar 11, 2020 by Jeff Mahoney  The Hamilton Spectator   “A moving look at schizophrenia”

Walter is a one-man play that delves into the challenges, drama and uneasy truce with life that define the experience of a man who has schizophrenia.

I’m not quite decided whether David Laing Dawson’s play “Walter” puts us inside Walter James Cross’s head or puts him inside of ours. In a way, it’s one and the same.

What I’m sure of is that, once it’s happened, if you’re like me, you’ll find it hard either to get yourself out of his head or to put him out of yours. That’s interesting because, as Walter James Cross states in the first line of the play, “I have schizophrenia.”

And it’s the power of “Walter” that still, long after I’ve left the theatre, the way he experiences the world is very much with me — to the extent that I can understand it, and the play enlarges that extent.

Sean Emberley, in the title role, is engrossing, so completely does he inhabit this complex, confusing but ultimately compelling character. You feel not so much that you’re seeing him onstage but passing him on the street.

Emberley’s remarkable achievement is that he lifts our engagement with Walter beyond the stare of curiosity, albeit sympathetic, into a trance in which we begin to identify with the struggle of his being.

It’s partly the play of his eyes and the mobile features of his face and his movements across the stage, by turns agitated and sedate. It’s also his voice, wounded but also strangely hypnotic. And aside from his own, there are the voices “in his head,” as the expression goes, which we get to hear along with him, thanks to the “soundscape” by Dave Gould.

The soundscape consists of recorded voice, music and other aural effects that essentially take what’s “in his head” and project it outward so that it seems to float around the theatre, echoey, almost submarine, reverberating through space, as though dislocated from him.

This sound disembodiment breaks down the space of the self and the spatial metaphors behind such idioms as “out” of one’s head or “inside” one’s head. They make us question this construct of identity as a continuity of integrated thought and feeling, separate from what is not “I.”

The play begins with Walter sitting at a simple table, on which a corps of pill bottles are almost sacramentally arrayed, his medications — Walter names them all.

Before long we hear the voice. We’re introduced to obsessions, and then Walter takes us through his day, in effect, his anxieties in a coffee shop, his loud humming, the attention of two police officers. There’s a visit to emergency, episodes of paranoia; detours into his past, the difficulty of high school, his parents, then back to present where’s he’s immobilized on the street.

We get a vivid sense of the immense difficulties of Walter’s life but also of his humanity and his uneasy truce with life, the pills clacking in his pockets, the squeak of his running shoes, his shadow dilating and contracting against a black curtain.

We feel his being as a kind of cavernous train station or airport, full of muffled echoes and vague distances, where not everything properly belongs to him. Like the voices. They’re at once inside and outside, apart from him, all over the place and nowhere at the same time.

The play is informed by playwright Dawson’s 50 years in psychiatry, treating schizophrenia. And the words are lit with both knowledge and compassion, which comes through as Walter soliloquizes himself over the barriers we put up against the “different.” This very powerful production is directed by Ronald Weihs.


 

#2:  Walter: Theatre Review by Tamara Kamermans
View Magazine, VIEW MARCH 12 – 25, 2020

I’m pleased to say that this production of Walter, written by David Laing Dawson, has been created in collaboration with [Artword Theatre’s] Judith [Sandiford] and Ron Weihs and the Gallery on the Bay, which is co-owned by the playwright. It’s an exciting new beginning for Judith and Ron as they have moved out of the original Artbar space downtown but are clearly still planning on making an impact in the Hamilton theatre scene.

Their home for this production and potential future productions is St. Andrew’s Hall at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in the core of Hamilton on James and Jackson. It’s a beautiful space and works particularly well for this one man show which follows the journey of Walter James Cross, the schizophrenic protagonist of the production.

Playwright Dawson actually created Walter as a film nearly 20 years ago. The current production is the script re-imagined for the stage by director Ronald Weihs and local actor Sean Emberley. Dawson was the former director for the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital and has used his some odd 50 years of observation and real life experience to create the compelling portrait of Walter and his journey through schizophrenia and the medical system.

Director Weihs lights the space evocatively as we follow the recollections of illness. David Gould creates a haunting soundscape that floats in an out like Walter’s recall. Blocking is relatively basic and perhaps some emphasis on segues between memories would help the general flow since it is 80 minutes in total. It’s the difference between feeling like you are hearing a speech and you can tune out and hearing a story that you don’t want to miss. That said Emberley is enigmatic enough to maintain the focus but it wouldn’t hurt to help him a little.

In the central role, he is captivating as he embodies the many ages of Walter. As a young man, we see his angst and then terror upon realizing his trajectory into the mental health system, then, as he ages, his new struggles with the system and the balance of medication. Emberley never once over sentimentalizes; instead, he allows the emotional reaction to resonate with the audience member. He simply tells the story as a grippingly real person. He leaves the richness and the ironies to his audience to ruminate.

His performance is like a poem. It’s presented with simplicity but has as many meanings as there are seats in the audience. He’s like the face of everyman with a mental illness. We’ve all seen him or known a piece of his story at one time in our lives. If you’ve worked in retail, or food service, or security, you’ve met him every day on the job. You’ve asked yourself what he’s doing and why or where he goes at night. Sometimes it seems he doesn’t even see you even though you knew him in high school. He begs for money and mutters strange things when you walk by him.

Emberley’s Walter is a theatrical vessel through which we can all better understand our personal interactions with the mentally vulnerable. It’s impossible not be emotionally touched by his presentation and each and every audience member will be remembering their own Walter as the stage lights go down.


 

Cancelled! Charly’s Piano – 2020 Toronto Storytelling Festival

NEWS March 14, 2020. The Toronto Storytelling Festival has just been cancelled, due to Covid-19 concerns.

Charly Chiarelli has been invited to bring the Artword Theatre production of Charly’s Piano to the 2020 Toronto Storytelling Festival. So Ron and Charly and Judith will be on the road (not very far). We will do the Fringe 2019 version of the show, with projections. Our date is Tuesday March 24, 2020  at 8:30 pm.

 https://torontostorytellingfestival.ca/site/

The venue is the Alliance Française, 24 Spadina Road, one block north of Bloor in Toronto: https://www.alliance-francaise.ca/en/culture/events/toronto-events/special-events/toronto-storytelling-festival-2020-en

Artword Theatre has plans for 2020 in Hamilton!

Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford, in Artword Artbar, September 2019, photo by Cathy Coward for the Hamilton Spectator

Yes, the facility at 15 Colbourne Street is now closed, and Artword Artbar is no more.

The building changed hands on December 5, 2019. But Ronald  Weihs and Judith Sandiford are working on plans for theatre projects for 2020.

Meanwhile, here is the 15 Colbourne story:
Big news for Artword Artbar:

Artword Artbar closure a sign of changes in the James Street North arts scene in Hamilton.  News September 4, 2019, by Mark McNeil The Hamilton Spectator

For 10 years, the bohemian-styled ‘listening room’ was part of the arts revival of James that’s moved into a new phase with rising property costs. The closing of one of the pillars of the arts and cultural revitalization of James Street North is being viewed as part of a shifting landscape driven by changing economics.
Artword Artbar owners Ron Weihs and Judith Sandiford say that after a decade of running the performance space on Colbourne Street, just around the corner from James, they feel it’s time to move on.
They sold the building, Weihs says, for a “fair price” in the “the most painless real estate transaction ever.” The closing takes place Dec. 5.
A real estate agent made a cold call in June saying he had an interested client who had been searching to find a building to house his architectural design studio.
“Ten years is a long time,” says Weihs. “We had been thinking lately that we would be winding down in a year or two, to try something new.”
The sale happens at a time when the area is moving into a new phase in which low-commerce artistic endeavours are becoming incompatible with new realities. While the street is set for the colossal Supercrawl celebration of music on James from Sept. 13 to 15, the smaller galleries and arts spots that laid the artistic groundwork of the street’s revitalization are vanishing.
Property values have doubled or tripled over the last 10 years — with rents in some cases quadrupling — making the cost of business much higher and beyond the means of homespun arts-related establishments.
The other main musical performance space in the James Street scene, This Ain’t Hollywood, is listed for sale at $1.89 million. Weihs wouldn’t divulge the selling price of the Artbar.
“James is becoming more of a street of shops and restaurants,” said Weihs. “When we first came, there were quite a few art galleries. But this is a normal progression. We have been part of this three times in different areas of Toronto.”
Especially interesting is how the building on Colbourne so perfectly mirrored what was happening around it. When the bunker-like structure opened in 1984, it was used as an Italian-Canadian social club, reflecting the large numbers of Italians who lived in the area. It eventually morphed into a Portuguese social club.
Amid a burgeoning arts scene, Weihs and Sandiford transformed the property from its ethnic roots into a small performance space for music and theatre with an art gallery in the basement.
And now the building is going the way of professional services office space, something that would have been very unusual a decade ago in that part of town.
“We want to be part of the downtown core. We want to be part of the hustle and bustle,” said Joel Tanner, the owner of SMPL that expects to open in February after renovations. The company specializes in residential design, an area that he says is growing with large numbers of affluent people coming to the city from the GTA willing to pay for major renovations.
Tanner said he had been looking for two years for a place to buy close to James to house the company’s nine employees.
Actor and storyteller Charly Chiarelli, who grew up in the North End of Hamilton and has been a frequent performer at the Artbar, says it’s unfortunate to see the grassroots arts leaving James.
“It’s the artists who create the buzz, the effervescence in the area. But it becomes a sabotage onto themselves by making the area popular and increasing the economic value of the area,” he says.
“I think it was a defining moment when Ron and Judith came to town off James Street, and I think it is a defining moment now that they are leaving.”
Weihs and Sandiford came to Hamilton a decade ago after their rented Artword Theatre on Portland Street in Toronto was sold to a condo developer.
They looked all over the GTA, but could find nothing that was suitable.
“We were in Mimico looking at a horrible building and we were told there was a place in Hamilton. We said, ‘How do you get there?’ So we drove to Hamilton.”
Over its 10-year existence, the Artbar became a hub for artists to develop their skills and for audiences to experience a wide range of music, theatre and dance. Weihs and Sandiford did much to develop local talent and build audiences.
Spectator theatre critic Gary Smith once wrote, “If you missed Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, when the Café Bizarre and the Village Gate were the ‘in’ places to go, don’t worry. You can find it all again, just off Hamilton’s James Street.”
Ron Corsini, a one-time city councillor and former James Street North property owner says, “I’m really disappointed to see the Artbar close down. The changes on James Street are good in one way but really bad and sad in another way.”
“When I was on James Street (as a property owner more than 10 years ago), the buildings were affordable. They were priced right and people could buy them. Businesses could survive paying the rent. It was a different era. Now you might have to pay $5,000 a month in rent.”
For their part, Weihs and Sandiford are upbeat about the future and say they’ll continue to participate in theatrical and musical shows in Hamilton and are currently figuring out the logistics of doing that.
And as Weihs notes: “There are lots of other areas of Hamilton that the arts could help to revitalize.”

ARTWORD ARTBAR dates & facts:

July 31, 2009: Ron Weihs and Judith Sandiford take possession of 15 Colbourne, the former Three Amigos, a Portuguese sports bar.
Sept. 25, 2009: First concert.
Nov. 16, 2019: Final concert.
Dec. 5, 2019: Closing date of sale to SMPL Architectural Design.
October 2009 to October 2014: Various visual art shows took place in downstairs gallery.
Fall 2014: Downstairs gallery transformed into a dance studio by Learie McNicholls.
By the numbers:
More than 1,000 musical performances
36 theatrical productions with 354 performances
35 dance productions
123 literary events.”

Fringe BYOV: Charly’s Piano, nine shows July 18-27, 2019

July 18 to 28, 2019: Artword Artbar, a Hamilton Fringe Festival BYOV, hosts Artword Theatre’s 60-minute version of Charly’s Piano, performed by Charly Chiarelli. The show is written by Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs, directed by Ronald Weihs, with songs by Charly Chiarelli.
Charly’s Piano tells the true tale of Charly as a young hippie looking for work in Toronto in 1972. He gets a job in a psychiatric hospital, and organizes a fundraising concert by patients and doctors to buy a piano.
Tickets: $12 Tickets: hamiltonfringe.ca/shows/charlys-piano/
Runs 60 mins. Showtimes: 18 Jul Thu: 9:00 pm, 19 Jul Fri: 7:00 pm,
20 Jul Sat: 9:00 pm, 21 Jul Sun: 7:00 pm, 23 Jul Tue: 9:00 pm, 24 Jul Wed: 7:00 pm,
25 Jul Thu: 9:00 pm, 26 Jul Fri: 7:00 pm, 27 Jul Sat: 9:00 pm.

Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs originally developed Charly’s Piano back in December 2017 as a two-act play. In 2019, the Fringe 60-minute time slot offered a challenging opportunity to develop a shorter version. They took out the Christmas carols and tightened up some of the songs. They cut out a few of the anecdotes about the patients that Charly worked with. And there we have it, a fine new version of the show. The projected image sequences are still there for all the songs:

Something About Toronto
Winter Time Blues
I Ponder
The Magic of Cats
Down and Dirty Blues
A Simple Minstrel’s Tune
Have a Good Time
When the Well Runs Dry
Pills they keep popping…
Something About Toronto


Fringe Press and Reviews  2019:

Charly’s Piano, Fringe advance article by Gary Smith, Hamilton Spectator, July 12, 2019

Hamilton favourite Charly Chiarelli brings back his wonderful remembrance of falling in love with music as a young hippie on the streets of Toronto. He takes us inside his complex world as he organizes a concert for patients and doctors in a psychiatric hospital. A warm, touching 60-minute show by Chiarelli and Ron Weihs that provokes laughter and more than a few tears.


Charly’s Piano 2019 review Raise The Hammer
July 25, 2019 https://www.raisethehammer.org/fringe/3144/charlys_piano

By Marianne Daly

Charly’s Piano is the interesting, inspiring and funny true story about Charly Chiarelli’s time working in a psychiatric hospital in 1972. This version of the story is terrific, with direction and background guitar by Artword Artbar’s own Ronald Weihs and black-and-white photos of Toronto projected on the back of the stage.

Charly is an animated and expressive storyteller who plays a mean harmonica. This show features Charly acting out many of the people he met when he worked at the Clark Institute. The story is packed with Charly’s self-deprecating humour and his open-hearted acceptance of quirky characters, and conveys a good-natured feeling of “hey, we’re all in this together, trying to figure it out as best we can.”

It also has a healthy dose of “fake it till you make it” when Charly organizes a variety show fundraiser to buy a piano for some informal music therapy.

Charly’s story ends on a rather sad note, when Charly goes back to visit the hospital several years later. It is a powerful ending, but Yours truly – ever the optimist – hopes the future is brighter for music therapy in psychiatric programs. Two recent visits I made to the psychiatric departments at St. Joseph’s give me faith that there is reason to hope.

This is a show that can inspire mental health professionals – and advocates like myself – to see how important music therapy is. In the meantime, go see Charly’s Piano, for wonderful stories and music guaranteed to make you feel better!

Marianne Daly is a writer, storyteller and retired high school teacher.


Charlys Piano,  ViewMagazine 2019 online Fringe Reviews

By Arthur Bullock

Charly’s Piano is a charming true story of empathy and compassion, set in early-1970s Toronto. The protagonist and storyteller, Charly Chiarelli, recounts his time at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, working as a psychiatric assistant. Throughout the course of the story, Charly gets to know the staff and patients of the institute, forming close bonds with all of them. Each patient is treated like an individual, with the dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve. As a Fringe storyteller, Chiarelli is friendly and energetic, speaking to the audience as though he was having a warm conversation with them. Chiarelli also incorporates live music into his act: he will periodically sing a blues tune and play the harmonica, while Ronald Weihs accompanies him on the acoustic guitar. Charly’s Piano is not just a story: more than anything else, it is an invitation to step into someone else’s shoes. It sheds light on the lives of mental health patients just as much as it recounts Chiarelli’s own life, and it reminds us of the incredible potential for change that one person can have.


 

Whoever You Are, a science-fiction play, May 14 to 26, 2019

May 14 to 26, 2019. Artword Theatre presents Whoever You Are, a play written and directed by Ronald Weihs, based on a 1952 science fiction short story by Judith Merril.

The human race has built a web around the Solar System that traps alien life forms. A SolSys scout ship returns with aliens aboard and is caught in the web. When a young recruit boards the ship and investigates, it becomes evident that the aliens have what may be an irresistible weapon: they love everybody.

Do we dare let them in? On Phobos (one of the moons of Mars), three people must decide what action to take: two men, a military commander and a psychologist, and one woman, the public information officer.

Performed by:
Jordan Campbell, Paula Grove and Jay Shand as the team at Phobos Base,
and Pamela Gardner as Private Fromm, the new space recruit.
Live soundscape by Dave Gould (and voice of Sergeant Bolster).
Video effects by Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford.

Show times: May 14-18 and 21-24 at 8 pm.
Matinees: Sat May 18, 25, at 3:30 pm. Call 905-543-8512.


Written in 1952, Whoever You Are was Judith Merril’s answer to the “Fortress America” paranoia at the beginning of the cold war, and her protest against the emotional and sexual repression that fueled it. Although the lines today are less sharply drawn, fear of the alien is as prevalent today as it was then.
Like most of Judith Merril’s work, Whoever You Are has fun with the science fiction setting, but uses it to make some serious points. Merril had a major influence on science fiction as one of the main voices for more human themes and complex issues. In her own fiction, and in a series of key anthologies, she championed the position that Science Fiction was about exploring alternative realities.

The play by Ronald Weihs was first developed in 1997, when Ron asked her permission to adapt one of her short stories for the stage. Judith Merril died on September 12, 1997, when the project to put Whoever You Are on the stage was well underway. Just before she went to the hospital, she read a draft of the script. Her most significant comment was that the play must convey the sense of inward-looking paranoia, fear and sexual repressiveness that underlies nationalism and xenophobia.

It seems even more urgent to revisit these themes now, in 2019, 22 years after our first presentation of the play (in our first Artword Theatre on Portland Street in Toronto), and 67 years after Judith Merril wrote the original story.


Whoever You Are review by Allison M. Jones. View Magazine Issue MAY 23 – 29, 2019

Theatrical productions at Artword Artbar are always multifaceted and ambitious. Whoever You Are, on now until May 26, is no exception. With multiple screens, pre-recorded dialogue, live action, images and aerial acrobatics, the play unspools within an otherworldly soundscape created with both pre-taped and live instrumentation.

Whoever You Are is derived from a 1952 short story by Judith Merril, written and directed by Artbar co-founder Ronald Weihs. It’s science fiction, and yet little of it is farfetched, particularly in the current geopolitical climate. To ensure their safety, humans have built a protective ‘web’ around the solar system. Alien outsiders cannot penetrate that barrier, while exploratory scouting ships venture into the great galactic void to find new habitable spaces to place humankind’s burgeoning population. Everything is under perfect control; the system is so effective that Sergeant Bolster (Dave Gould) and Private Joanne Fromm (Pamela Gardner) can play long games of checkers while keeping watch over their sector. Bolster is on the cusp of retirement and that, as any reader or viewer knows, means all hell is about to break loose.

When a scouting ship returns with aliens (but none of its human crew) aboard, it’s caught and held in stasis. It’s up to Bolster and Fromm to investigate while three officials, military Commander William Hartson (Jordan Campbell), ‘Information Officer’ Lucille Ardin (Paula Grove), and Psych Officer Dr. Bob Schwartz (Jay Shand) determine how best to manage the situation and package it for public consumption.

Weihs first developed and presented Whoever You Are in 1997, the year he reached out to Judith Merril, shortly before her death, to gain permission to adapt one of her stories into a play. Merril’s original story Whoever You Are was inspired by the protectionist paranoia of America’s Cold War era, but as the show’s program alludes, fear of the alien ‘Other’ has become a tense preoccupation yet again.

But as Private Fromm discovers, the aliens may not be as imagined and promoted by the higher ups. They are unexpectedly humanoid. I was reminded of the quote, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us,” used by a Walt Kelly comic strip in the Vietnam War era, and derived from the words of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the War of 1812.

There’s reason to believe these aliens mean no harm; they may literally be ‘coming in peace,’ offering goodwill in exchange for help. Tor Lukasik Foss and Taylor Sutherland relay opposing accounts of the alien encounter in pre-recorded segments as Captain James Malcolm and George Gentile, Birdman 1st Class, members of the ‘doomed’ scouting ship.

Is the aliens’ lack of aggression a trick? Are they manipulating the humans’ minds? When the paranoia is this strong and embedded, truth becomes trick and hope becomes hallucination.

I liken this play to an old time radio drama come to life, in mostly good ways. The drama is high, the characters are clearly drawn, and it gives the audience something to think about. From time to time the dialogue verges on a bit wooden (particularly among the three officials), and perhaps the script is a little too on the nose in some areas and light on character development. Rather than hear Sergeant Bolster call Private Fromm a nutty misfit yet again, I’d have liked to have learned more about what motivated her.

Dave Gould is Sergeant Bolster, but also master of the soundscape. It was odd to see him on screen while simultaneously offstage playing his antler stringed instrument. Gould’s programmed and live music played nicely off one another, evoking emotion, tension, and the peculiar sounds of space

As Private Fromm, Pamela Gardner uses her aerial skills to great effect, tumbling and twisting to suggest the weightlessness of space. It was magnetic to watch her mimic movement in zero gravity while images of a space capsule floated gently behind her. When I heard that Whoever You Are would feature an aerialist, I was surprised. The Artbar is modestly sized with a relatively low, drop ceiling. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and the folks at Artbar have plenty of heart. Throughout, Artbar co-founder Judith Sandiford captains the sound, projection and lighting cues in quietly capable fashion.

Whoever You Are is original and timely, a philosophical story built within a multisensory environment. It’s worth a look.

***