Vancouver’s Realwheels Theatre Creeps stands the test of time.
David E. Freeman’s Creeps tells the story of four men with cerebral palsy who barricade themselves in the bathroom of a workshop, refusing to work and wanting change. Although the play first premiered in the 1970s, the disability issues explored in Creeps are still relevant today.
This Vancouver production, directed by Brian Cochrane and produced by Realwheels Theatre, ultimately asks: who are the real creeps? Are they the men’s employers, who take advantage of their financial situation and exploit their work for meagre pay? Are they the misdirected social clubs who try to provide charity but do so in a condescending way (like trips to the zoo for full-grown men)? Is it society, who looks down on people with disabilities and views them as some sort of novelty (keep in mind this play is set in the 70s)? Or are they the four men themselves, who curse, yell, smoke, complain and trade crude stories and even cruder language during their minor rebellion?
Maybe this was Freeman’s intent—to present people with disabilities as, well, people. People, who yell and laugh, get angry or sad, and who are sexual and emotional beings just like the rest of us.
There is Sam (Brett Harris), a fast-talking raunchy joker, Pete (Paul Beckett), an older man who has given up on dreaming, and Jim (Adam Grant Warren) and Tom (Aaron Roderick), whose dreams are still very much alive.
Jim wants to be a writer, Tom wants to be a painter, and both want to break down the barriers around them—but how? The discussion that follows fills the intimate Cultch stage with life and delves into complicated issues such as prejudicial societal views, how these men are “not welcome” by others, and how frustrating it is to try and make a difference.
There is a sense of irony here: the men talk about changing the outside world for the entirety of the play, but choose to stay inside. Is their protest really making a difference if no one can see it beyond the four walls of a tiny grungy bathroom? The confined space does create unavoidable conflict—the men are forced to confront their issues head-on—but it also seems limiting in terms of blocking and stage direction. Some moments seemed to drag simply because there was not enough movement.
That being said however, Roderick, Warren and Beckett, who all have disabilities in real life, do a wonderful job of navigating the tight bathroom terrain for a full 75 minutes and together, under Cochrane’s direction, create natural movement driven by dialogue. The whole ensemble gives worthy performances and the involvement of actors living with real physical disabilities in this version of Creeps brings an authenticity and depth that reflects Realwheels mission to create and produce performances that deepen audiences’ understanding of the disability experience.
It’s an experience that has changed for the better since the 1970s, but still has a way to go. We may not use the word ‘creeps’ anymore to describe someone with a disability, but as the play shows, there are a multitude of other ways we can improve.