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Assassinating Thomson portrait

Assassinating Thomson is a clever, heartening production. Monster Theatre seamlessly interweaves an autobiography, art homage, and “whodunit” to create a work that is so much more than the 80-minute entertainment it originally appears to be.

The play’s sole actor, Bruce Horak, is legally blind, and has been since losing 91 percent of his eyesight to cancer as a child. That hasn’t stopped him from pursuing a life of art and acting, as visible on first entering The Firehall’s lobby: dozens of colourful portraits line the walls, Horak’s own collection titled “The Way I See It”. It’s here the story of Assassinating Thomson begins, with Horak’s own relationship with art.

He gets through an intriguing and moving retelling of his childhood, the relationship between his father and art, and a few more anecdotes before we realize that – ever so subtly, ever so cleverly – he is building a framework for the story that mirrors the artwork he goes on to discuss.

Such artwork belongs to Tom Thomson: one of Canada’s greatest painters but never, as some believe, a member of the Group of Seven. His death in 1917 at Ontario Lake is still shrouded in mystery. Assassinating Thomson considers who was responsible for his death – rival and fellow painter, shunned fiancée, next-door neighbor, Thomson himself? Each slowly built thesis of blame is entirely plausible, while Horak’s delivery leaves you with bright eyes and butterflies that only the best mysteries can.

But just as each tale ends, we’re back into a fun, easy-going reality, hearing Horak tell us about the five principles of drawing and more about his own life experiences.

Is now a good time to say that during the production Horak is also painting a picture of the audience, once again demonstrating connection between content and form?

Bruce Horak
[Bruce Horak]

Horak is relaxed and funny: the perfect host to walk an audience through what is, at first, a meandering monologue – albeit a charming one. He plays with silence, reacts naturally to audience interactions, and has comic timing as sharp as Swatch.

There are some time-halting moments in the play, too. Horak’s realization he should “Stop mourning the 91 percent and start cherishing the 9” being one of them. Painting his father, from only the memory of his scent, is another.

Much of Assassinating Thomson’s strength comes from its gentleness of storytelling. You can leave the theatre thinking what you saw was a fascinating individual telling you about all about art. It’s only when you step back – as with much 20th century painting – that you see how beautifully the play itself mirrors its subject. Just as Thomson’s work benefits from shades peaking through others, so Assassinating Thomson is a richly textured, cleverly designed piece of theatre with interlinking pieces barely visible to the naked eye. It leaves one with a sense of gratitude, curiosity, and appreciation for art – a fine thing for any play to achieve.

Assassinating Thomson continues at The Firehall Arts Centre through October 19. Tickets from $20, available online.

About Our Contributor Zoe Grams

Zoe Grams

Scottish-born Zoe Grams is Principal at ZG Communications and has spent much of her life in theatres and bookstores. Her work has appeared in publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Tyee, Back of the Book, GUM and Skinny Mag. Zoe's lifelong passions include the arts and exploring new cities.

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