Torquil Campbell has a weird first name, he tells us in the early beats of his solo show True Crime, now playing in a cheeky, haunting reprise at Crow’s Theatre.
As a fellow possessor of a weird first name, I laughed at that joke on opening night, and quickly fell into the alluring trap that is Campbell’s play.
Campbell, the front man for Montreal indie pop band Stars, has an easy, but contradictory, manner about him. He’s self-deprecating, and yet it’s often clear he’s his own biggest fan. He performs in spite of, not because of, his audience — until he doesn’t. He’s perhaps the only theatre person in town who’s not afraid to make fun of True Crime co-creator Chris Abraham in public (thrice!).
But Campbell has a doppelganger, Christian Gerhartsreiter, better known as Clark Rockefeller. Gerhartsreiter may or may not have killed two people before slithering his way across the United States, picking up new aliases and creating larger and larger personas. Gerhartsreiter eventually went to prison in California, where he stays to this day.
Campbell’s obsessed with this dude: with the crimes, yes, but with the man himself, too. They look very alike, he tells us, and we have to take his word for it — we never see a photo during the show.
I’ll save you a Google. Yes, they look alike. Spookily so.
As Campbell tells us about the infamous German con man, he acts him out, fluidly slipping in and out of the accents and false identities. Before long, it seems a crack emerges deep within Campbell. His obsession with this criminal is not a quirk or mere artistic project. It seems the very idea of Gerhartsreiter, whose love for his daughter mirrors Campbell’s for his own, has infiltrated Campbell, as well as his songwriting, and his marriage, and everything else.
And it only gets worse when he flies to California to meet him.
Much of True Crime is standard solo show fare, a collage of “how I made the play you’re watching” and intimate details about Campbell’s personal life. But True Crime is no cliché: with Gerhartsreiter’s involvement, which Campbell explains in great detail, it can’t be. The criminal’s eccentricities and mannerisms complement Campbell’s own, flowing from the musician-actor’s body with frightening ease (even when the telltale German accent veers into Montreal joual). Though Campbell is the only person telling the audience this story, it’s easy to forget that when he’s so very good at playing two people.
Though Campbell’s the only person to speak, he’s not alone onstage. Behind him sits Julian Brown, who shepherds the evening along with moody electric guitar licks. Occasionally the music crescendos into more fulsome songs, and Campbell sings, the voice of Stars in all its tuneful, resonant glory. The songs are intermittently related to the story of Gerhartsreiter, but it doesn’t really matter: much like Remington North’s stylish lighting design, they add to the True Crime’s timeless, ineffably cool atmosphere.
I called True Crime a trap earlier: sort of like the Crow’s edition of Cliff Cardinal’s As You Like It, there’s a trick baked into the fabric of this show, one prone to spoilage. Without giving away the punchline, True Crime is as much about truth and lies as it is about Campbell and Gerhartsreiter, and Campbell jumps rope with that razor-thin schism for much of the play’s final third. I’d argue that final third runs a little long — True Crime could probably be tightened by about 20 minutes — but it’s gripping to watch all the same.
Following in the footsteps of his family, of impressive Canadian theatre pedigree, Campbell’s made a triumphant return to the stage with this remount of True Crime. Loaded with insider baseball jokes for the Toronto theatre crowd, the play’s a rollercoaster of emotions, and a welcome one.
True Crime runs at Crow’s through May 7. Tickets are available here.
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