Every year, Walterdale Playhouse brings a new work to audiences. This year’s From Cradle to Stage production is Starless, by Eric Rice. Eric says, “Starless chronicles a day in the life of a homeless person. It’s about a homeless man who gets woken up by the police and the love of his life – the lady that is his companion is gone and so he goes in search of her.”
The play is a result of the Eric seeing one of his previous works, Ralph’s World performed previously as part of From Cradle to Stage. After having his work performed in front of an audience, Eric realized, “… after writing and watching it, I didn’t know anything about homeless people. I had a lot of preconceptions and it was kind of a rag doll of thoughts I had. So, I volunteered for a few years to interview Street News vendors, some of whom are homeless and some are homed but are marginal. Out of that, I wanted to create a character who was different than our expectations because we always judge people by what our own expectations are. I think that happens a lot with homeless and marginalized people. We look at them and think, “Why couldn’t you just try a little harder? Just get up in the morning and go to work.” I think what we don’t realize is that everyone has a different way of looking at the world and we always think that our way is the only way.”
Starless instead, allows us to see the world through the eyes of Ralph, the central character who is homeless, but also allows us to identify ourselves – and our prejudices – through the secondary characters in the show. “[Starless] lets the homeless character have his own voice – it’s not necessarily a real voice, I’m not saying it’s meant to represent a real person – [but he has] a voice and the characters around him show or breath life into the different perspectives we have of homeless people. The line, ” He’s just a bum, he needs a good kick in the ass.” is one [perspective]. There’s the caring professions who do their best to help them and don’t always know how or they come at it from their own direction. And then there’s people like the reporter character who want to help them and tell their story, but it’s always appropriation of one kind or another. [The show tries] to create a character that people recognize as being different and then shows people around him who [the audience] can … identify with are not necessarily just or fair in how they deal with him even though they think they’re trying to be.”
Another theme Starless explores is the idea of structure and freedom, especially in the context of those who try to help the less fortunate. With the Government of Alberta being three years into implementing its 10 year plan to end homelessness, the questions of what systems or structures are we imposing, are they wanted, and are they working are certainly timely ones. Of the play’s central character, Ralph, Eric says, “there are a lot of different things that have been foisted on him in his life… All he wants to do is live wherever, on his patch of grass with the love of his life and that’s the only structure he really wants is to be in love and to feel that. Yet, the world keeps pushing him in different directions… Things are handed to him like, “Here, you’re a bum, you should get religion. You’re a bum, you should get a job. You’re a bum, you should get into a house or go to a hospital.” He’s always being forced into things he doesn’t want and he’s rebelling against. Even the stars to that extent are structured. They’re someone else’s stars, someone has named them. What he wanted and what Mary wanted was to create their own world and say “We want to be the king and queen of this world” and yet they’re not allowed to do that.”
Starless is presented as Walterdale Playhouse’s From Cradle to Stage production and runs May 12 – 17 at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $12 – $18 and can be bought at Tix on the Square or at the door (cash only).