Crow Review - A Man, A Sailboat, and a Touch of Madness

Jeremy Sher (Donald Crowhurst)

There is a lot to like in Walkabout Theater’s production of the one man show Crow which is currently playing at Victory Gardens.  Written and performed by Jeremy Sher, Crow is based on the true story of Donald Crowhurst who disappeared in 1969 while competing in a solo sailing race around the world.  Sher is wonderful here as a tortured dreamer whose ambitions are fated to flame out in a rather spectacular fashion.  Sher, along with director Scott Bradley, also is credited with set design which consists primarily of 1200’ of rope (per the post card accompany the press kit), a low table, tie holds, and several flag poles with inserted steps that allowed for climbing.  Brilliant in its simplicity, this design well suggests a sailing ship as well as an English home and other locales.  Midway through the play I jotted down all the uses of rope and recorded the following:  sail rigging, a sleeping baby, telephone, a palm, and a dutiful wife.  Costume designer Elsa Hiltner is also the model of efficiency in her work as Sher performs in layers that when either stripped or added reveal a single man of many roles including husband, struggling business man, and heroic sailor.    

Jeremy Sher (Donald Crowhurst)

If only the story was as straightforward as the other elements of the performance.  The beginning itself is deftly presented as a beaming Crowhurst arrives on shore and delivers a graceful and well practiced victory speech to an adoring crowd.  As this is gradually revealed to be little more than a daydream, one immediately understands his motivation in attempting the seemingly impossible.  The ending too is poignant and indicates quite well the crashing in the surf of dreams meeting reality.  It is the in between that is not so well developed.  Using not so linear story telling, Sher is able to fully sketch out a complicated person, one who both loves and feels responsibility to family but is also willing to follow his dreams wherever they may lead.  Other aspects of his character, namely his flirtation with Einstein’s theories of relativity, are less convincing.  Too much of the play involves Crowhurst rifting about his place in the universe and the possibility of transcending reality.  Are we to believe he descended slowly into madness or was this more like a fragile aspect of his personality expressed due to mental fatigue?  This answer is never explored.  Instead we are repeatedly subjected to an only somewhat unhinged character that may or may not grasp the suicide he is contemplating.  His seemingly godlike delusions (while well supported visually and acoustically) only add to the confusion and make what should be a Hamlet worthy existential crisis into something more abstract and less emotionally engaging.   

Jeremy Sher (Donald Crowhurst)

Bottom Line:  Crow is only somewhat recommended.  While Crow shows real creativity in its visual effects, the story appears overly complicated and not sufficiently engaging.  For more information on this and other shows, visit Theatre In Chicago

Photos by:  Emma Stanton

 

 

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