Walter Borden’s The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time is out of this world and I urge anyone who is passionate about language and the big questions in life to see it during its mainstage Neptune run to September 25.
The 90-minute show – apart from Borden’s thrilling performance – is like a crack of lightning illuminating a violent, directionless world.
Borden and his characters struggle with racism, discrimination, poverty and violence, but they are strong and resilient, wise and often funny.
The autobiographical show, told from the perspective of a gay, Black man who is a deep thinker, has been finely honed over 47 years. It’s about fighting back and standing tall.
Borden is fearless in performance; his text is a charged, poetic, tongue-twisting jam of language, strong and salty but ultimately sacred.
Borden’s 10 characters, inspired by people he’s met and learned from over his 80 years, include a preacher telling the Prodigal Son like I’ve never heard it before; a critical, comical, old woman on a country porch trying to talk sense into a young man; a frank, fur-coated, female prostitute fond of the “old days” and a drill sergeant preparing for war against racism in a brilliant reworking of Churchill’s “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech.
There is one sad, searing part in this piece around children that had me curling down in my seat and holding my sweater like a blanket. Borden brought himself down to the ground in extreme, raw emotion.
Then he slowly pulled himself up and out of this intense, terrible state by moving into his mother’s warm and safe kitchen in his native New Glasgow and voicing his mother crocheting and talking. Just brilliant!
Given the power in Borden’s articulation and transformative acting, this play doesn’t require a lot of design to carry the story, its emotions and ideas.
However, the National Arts Centre (NAC) English Theatre production, directed by former NAC director Peter Hinton-Davis, has very strong design elements in projections, sound and set that help make a one-man show loud and large on the main stage.
A house structure, at the centre of paths carved out of tiny lights, is a night, job post and Borden’s mother’s kitchen with projected billowing curtains. It also looks like a time-travel machine particularly during design-heavy, slightly over-baked, sci-fi or voice-of-God sections when the Borden character is looking for his identity and his path.
The lighting design by Andy Moro, who also designed the set, video and costume, is excellent, as is Adrienne Danrich’s expert sound design.
Poets, activists, LGBTQ+ folks, Black Nova Scotians (Canadians or Americans), liberal-thinking Christians, theatre artists – anyone interested in the power of language to deliver life and meaning – should see this piece.
Borden, opening Neptune Theatre’s 60th season, first joined Neptune Theatre in 1972 and the Stratford Festival actor has performed in over 20 productions at Neptune including The Gospel at Colonus, Man of La Mancha and Hosanna. He received a standing ovation and a curtain call opening night and Neptune is naming its green room after him.
Borden writes in the program notes that this piece “is fashioned from truth, honesty, sincerity, simplicity, passion and compassion, sympathy and empathy, understanding, kindness and infinite love.”
“So, in the silence of your own personal secret night, come drift awhile and sift awhile through some of the chambers in the mansions of my mind where you will quite probably run into – you.”
Show times are Tuesday to Friday, 7:30 pm; Saturday, 7:30 pm; Sunday, 2 p.m. at http://www.neptunetheatre.com/tickets (Neptune Theatre) or call the Box Office at (902) 429-7070. (The language is strong with racial terms and mature themes.)
The 60th anniversary season continues this fall with Cliff Cardinal’s Huff in the studio theatre Oct. 4 to 9, Stephen King’s Misery with Hugh Thompson, Samantha Wilson and Andrew Bigelow, Oct. 14 to Nov. 6, Elf The Musical, Nov. 22 to Dec. 31 and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the studio theatre Nov. 24 to Dec. 30.