Man I'm excited to see this next Friday. it'll be the first time I see Wanda in a play!!
You'll laugh, your blood will boil; CRIPS AND ABLED John Feld takes
in his play on a bank heist by wheelchair gang, finds Greg Quill CRIPS
The Toronto Star, July 30, 2006
Get angry, outraged, bilious.
Feel conscience-stricken and extremely uncomfortable ... to the very
pit of your soul.
In fact, Toronto poet, writer, activist and multiple sclerosis victim
John Feld would love it if the "temporarily abled" bodies in the audience
Squirm all through his play Oops!, when it debuts Thursday as one of this
year's SummerWorks Theatre Festival offerings.
As long as they laugh at his jokes.
"Confrontational but funny - that's what I'm going for," Feld said
Following a rehearsal this week at the wheelchair-accessible St. Lawrence
Recreational Centre, where a group of professional actors - four with MS, one little
person, one blind, a cerebral palsy sufferer and a quadriplegic, all
working as Crippled Toronto Productions - were putting the finishing touches on
the disquieting satirical comedy.
"After SummerWorks, who knows?" Feld continued. "I'm a shallow guy.
I'll go for the money. I'm hoping for a TV series and a movie ..."
The 45-minute play, which will be staged as well on Aug. 11 and 13, is
about a group of frustrated and foul-mouthed wheelchair-bound friends who
hold up a city bank - under the cover of a riotous pride parade for the
disabled - as a way of underwriting their shaky future and striking out against
the complacency, intransigence, condescension, ignorance, obstruction and
outright cruelty they encounter in their everyday lives.
The targets of Feld's venom are public institutions and utilities,
Policy makers, the media, urban designers, architects and in particular,
Toronto's Wheel-Trans transport service - it's dubbed "Crip-Trans" in the play
and is run by whip-cracking sadists with a fetish for tormenting their
Feld's first theatrical enterprise, written over the past three or four
years and submitted on spec without the benefit of grant support and
legit theatre connections, was chosen from among hundreds of entries for the
fully juried festival of new and cutting-edge Canadian plays, now in its 15th
year. The low-cost production was financed by Feld's wife "and
underpaid driver," Alliance Atlantis Communications CEO Phyllis Yaffe.
"That was the easy part," explained the novice playwright and founder
of the inclusive, multidisciplinary Abilities Festival in Toronto, an annual
celebration of the artistic achievements by people with disabilities.
"The kicker was that we could only be part of the festival if we could
Find an 'off-site' venue - not one of the Festival's regular spaces - with
both a stage and an auditorium that are wheelchair accessible."
Of some 54 theatre spaces in GTA, only four met the access
requirements, and only one was available - the Workman Theatre, established in 1987 for
clients of the Queen Street Mental Health Centre at 1001 Queen St. W.
(For the SummerWorks schedule, go to summerworks.ca.)
"It's entirely appropriate that we should find our home in a place
Built specifically for people with disabilities," Feld laughed. "We don't
seem to be welcome anywhere else."
Through the Abilities Festival and his work with various disabilities
Rights organizations, Feld recruited a first-rate Equity cast - Andre Arruda,
Mark Brose, Wanda Fitzgerald, Leesa Levinson, Diana Zimmer and Ed Wadley -
and an eager director in Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, theatre administrator at
Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto.
"I thought the script was provocative and funny at the same time," said
St. Bernard, the only TAB - temporarily abled body - in the troupe.
"It raises some very important issues and it dares people to examine
Their own attitudes and feelings about people with disabilities. The play
Makes the point that almost no one is free of some kind of disability, 'official'
Indeed, one of the funniest scenes in Oops! is a TV commentary by two
wheelchair-bound former hockey heroes as they list groups marching in
order "according to the suffix of their disability" at the Crippled Toronto
Disabilities Pride Parade, starting with the "-itis people" and running
through the "-mania-afflicted",
those with physical, psychological and other disorders, syndromes,
phobias, addictions, diseases and conditions that separate them from the
so-called norm. It's not difficult to see yourself among them, and becomes
impossible - this is Feld's intention - to see yourself as anything but
And when, at the end of the chaotic robbery scene, the lead character
Played by veteran actor Arruda - who was born with Morquio syndrome, affecting
The development of joints and growth of bones, and is just 3-foot-3 in
height - exits in his scooter while snarling, "I hate you all very much," at the
bank staff and customers, it's hard not to feel his rage.
"That's Andre's line," said Feld. "I might feel that kind of anger, but
I don't think I could have put it on the page. I originally wanted to
have fun with the idea, but the anger is hard to eliminate.
"We're the gimps at SummerWorks. We're entitled."WHAT Oops!, a play by