- Coeurage Theatre Company, Los Angeles, 2015
- Oberon Theatre Ensemble, New York City, 2014
- Act-O-Matic 3000, Melbourne, Australia, 2013
- Theater Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany, 2010
- Old Red Lion Theatre, London, 2009
- Pacific Theatre, Vancouver, 2008
- The Actors Studio Free Theater, New York City, 2000
- Pacific Theatre, Vancouver, BC, May 07, 2008
by Steven Fechter Dates and Venue 3 – 26 April 2008, 8pm |
Pacific Theatre Director Morris Ertman
Reviewer Erin Jane
Steven Fechter’s The Woodsman isn’t the easiest play to enjoy, not in small part because of its controversial subject matter. A convicted pedophile begins his rehabilitation, and takes on the challenges and difficulties of new relationships, society, and his own self-loathing. In spite of what most would consider a rather disturbing or unsettling play, The Woodsman takes its subject matter head-on and triumphantly succeeds in achieving what I think it sets out to achieve, which is to illuminate one man’s humanity and redemption, even in his darkest place. The Woodsman is powerful because it shows its audience the human being inside the monster. It sheds light on an issue of which most of us are either largely ignorant or aggressively judgmental, and explores the psychological burden of being tormented with pedophilic desires. Walter is a surprisingly and enormously empathetic character, and is played by Dirk van Stralen who portrays Walter’s struggle for control and for normalcy deftly and intimately. When I read that Pacific Theatre’s Artistic Director Ron Reed had said, “The play goes to a very dark place. I don’t know if it goes too far, or if it doesn’t go far enough, but I’m glad it has the courage to go where it does,” it was a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agreed. Experts in the field of sexual dysfunction have stated a belief that pedophilia could potentially be successfully treated, if only the medical community would give it more attention. Pacific Theatre’s The Woodsman in no way attempts to be political, but nevertheless, I applaud Pacific Theatre and its brilliant cast for taking on the challenge and succeeding. © 2008 Erin Jane reviewvancouver.com
THE WOODSMAN: Reflections from a Cast Member
I suppose I didn’t really want to feel this, but I miss the show.
I woke up Sunday morning after closing with tears streaming down my cheeks, and the subsequent days here in Wells have been quite a process of letting go; long tensed-up muscles in my back have been slowly relaxing, and I’ve been feeling waves of powerful emotions rolling through me as I let go of Walter.
The Woodsman was one of the richest and most profound theatrical experiences of my life – emotionally, personally, technically and artistically. My experience of the process was grace-filled and bathed in a particularly spectacular light the whole way through. I felt an intense need to be a good steward of this production, and was frightened at the commitment level I knew it would require. Morris made the rehearsal hall a very safe place to work in, however, and fear was replaced by the exhilaration of the challenge.
The cacophony of souls on this show produced a uniquely beautiful song I will treasure for years to come. I loved / hated playing the show each night, and could think of little else throughout the run, even on days off.
I have never had a theatre experience where the sense of audience participation in the show was so utterly palpable, even if most people stayed away in droves. There was a tangible feeling each time that those who dared come were challenged, stirred, offended and moved. So rare!
This experience was a much-needed reminder for me of the privilege it is to be a artist, to say nothing of the sort of miraculous transcendence a play with themes as ugly as this one can inspire. I haven’t felt so alive in my art, my loves, my life or my sense of purpose for a very long time.
Moreover, doing a play about a man whose deepest secrets are on the table has inspired new levels of trust and honesty in my own relationships that have awakened, challenged – even threatened – and renewed them in an almost embarrassing flood of riches.
I am humbled and feel beyond lucky to have been a part of this.
Thank you thank you thank you.
Dirk van Stralen
Playwright’s Letter – Oberon Theatre Ensemble’s Production
How does one make a reviled figure in American society your story’s “hero”? In a sense, I wrote The Woodsman with the intent of answering that question. In this case, my hero, Walter, happens to be a convicted child molester. In my mind I first had to present a human being. If I could do that, I reasoned, perhaps an audience would accept (or at least be open to accepting) this unlikely protagonist. Still, it seemed like a tall order. Further, this “monster” would not die or go to prison at the end of the story. He would still be with us, living and working in our community. How would an audience feel about that?
Show the audience an unlikable protagonist struggling to change and they will care about that character. Presenting a convicted child molester as protagonist, however, was more problematic and challenging. I had to somehow show that my protagonist’s struggle was one the audience could relate to and yet that it transcended mere gritty reality. For me the key to enlarging Walter’s conflict was provided in the title. With “The Woodsman” I felt that I had found the right title. It revealed levels of fable and metaphor that opened up Walter’s world. Like many fables and fairy tales, The Woodsman is a world inhabited by predators and children with the possible hope of one mighty hero. The title of my play comes from the character that saves Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf. Walter, once a predator of little girls, wants to live a normal life. But he cannot succeed until he has the courage to confront the wolf inside him. The title clues the audience that Walter’s struggle is one that is universal. We all have our inner demons. Our best and our worst impulses often do battle – only our battles are not on the same scale as Walter’s.
The Woodsman began as a playwright’s attempt to reveal the humanity in a sexual outcast. It ended as a story about redemption. Of course research was done to get the story right. What I learned is that every pedophile is different. Their crimes are different. The causes of their sickness are different. The issue is difficult and complex. The Woodsman is the story of just one man, not Everyman. While society’s harsh attitude toward child molesters may be understandable, a question the play asks is whether there is still the possibility for forgiveness.
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Coeurage Theatre Company
Through June 13
“Nothing human disgusts me,” goes the famous quote from Tennessee Williams’s The Night of the Iguana, and Steven Fechter’s play The Woodsman puts that credo to the test for theater audiences. It deals with the difficult subject of a pedophile trying to resist his baser urges and to become a better man, and it does so quite successfully. Although this is definitely a serious subject, Fechter weaves in a large amount of wit, creating an entertaining and moving piece of drama rather than a dull but well-meaning tract on sex offender recidivism. Coeurage Theatre Company’s production is potent, galvanized by Tim Cummings’s superb performance in the lead role.
(With the exception of the lead role, this production is double-cast, and this review is only of the performers seen by this reviewer.)
Walter (Cummings), who spent 12 years in prison for a couple of sexual convictions against minors, is back out in the world and is trying to move forward with his life. He’s in therapy with Dr. Rosen (Mark Jacobson), working at a furniture warehouse and starting a relationship with his co-worker Nikki (Julianne Donelle). He’s also watching the kids across the street at the grade school, where he recognizes another possible predator at work. As Walter deals with society’s revulsion for people like him and his own self-loathing, the pressure becomes too much and he begins to crack.
The playwright and Cummings succeed in making you care for Walter, which ups the dramatic stakes considerably.
Jeremy Lelliott’s direction gets a lot out of a spare set and few props, creating credible locations from performances, sound and lighting. He gets strong work from the ensemble, and his pacing moves the action at an admirable clip. Joseph V. Calarco’s sound design adds considerably to the production, but the inclusion of sad, slow piano music to various dramatic scenes feels like a cliché.
Fechter has written a remarkable play that asks its audience to understand the predicament of a character they might usually dismiss immediately. Though it may not be completely convincing in every detail, it is a fine, moving and thought-provoking piece of theater.
Coeurage Theatre Company at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Cafe, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake.
Walter is a quiet man who leads a quiet life. As a convicted sex offender fresh out of state prison, he sees no choice. He works in a warehouse. He lives alone. He sees a therapist. His only visitor is his brother-in-law. He also gets visits from a child-like demon. One day a tough-talking woman from work drops by. Things are looking up. Then a cop visits Walter and applies rough intimidation. Then the old temptations return. Can Walter fight them off, confront his past, and grab his one chance for redemption?
Published by Samuel French, Inc.