Review: Arresting storytelling in enigmatic documentary play “True Crime”

Torquil Campbell captivates in solo show about truth and murder at the Centaur

Torquil Campbell in “True Crime” (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

True Crime is the story of two artists. One of them is a con. The impostor, however, may not exactly be who you think it is.

Our first suspect is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant to the United States convicted 27 years to life in prison for first-degree murder, custodial kidnapping of his daughter, and for assuming a succession of impersonations for three decades – most notably, that of the fake New York millionaire Clark Rockefeller.

His counterpart: Canadian Torquil Campbell, son of a famous stage actor and actress who here makes his grand return to his theatre roots after forging a successful career in the music industry – most notably, in his turn, as the front man for the Montreal-based indie pop-rock band Stars.

Campbell plays Gerhartsreiter . . . or is it the other way around? They even look like each other, bearing a strong physical resemblance. Are the similarities more than skin deep? Only the best gumshoe can decipher.

A Castleton Massive production presented by Crow’s Theatre at the Centaur, True Crime is a one-man documentary play recounting the tales of these two real-life men – and their climactic face-to-face encounter. The compelling metanarrative, written by performer Campbell and director Chris Abraham in collaboration with composer Julian Brown, takes a twisted autobiography to hold a startling mirror to our own fears and vices. It’s altogether mind-bending, side-splitting, and spine-chilling.

Torquil Campbell in “True Crime” (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Obsession drives this arresting play about making a play (namely, the very one we’re watching). Our charming, animated yarn spinner Campbell – wholly commanding of space, time, and attention – confesses up front to his long-time fixation on true murder stories on TV prior to his infatuation with the Gerhartsreiter case – subject of his new artistic creation. Bewitched by the intrigue of transgression (and a generous Ontario Arts Council grant in hands), he’s set on developing this juicy story and script, and writes to his incarcerated doppelgänger to make it happen. Correspondence with a sociopath, however, beckons peril for his family, his career, and himself, but it’s too late – our author is caught deep in and carried fast by the adrenaline of his quest for truth, relevancy, identity, and purpose.

The detective mystery that ensues is wildly humorous and thoroughly engaging, largely due to the presence and storytelling talents of Campbell, whose connection with his audience is immediate and effortless. In swiftly shifting back and forth from appearing as himself to embodying the flamboyant Gerhartsreiter – as well as an array of other colourful characters and aliases assumed by the infamous convict – we are treated to his gifts in vocalization (Torquil also sings throughout the show. Brown provides the wonderful live guitar and piano accompaniment. It’s all beautifully framed by Remington North’s rock concert-inspired set and lighting design).

Ultimately, though, it is our raconteur’s acknowledgement of the vanity, ambition, addiction, corruption, and recklessness within himself that prompts the most urgent reflections on the human capacity for manipulation and deception. Who and what do we believe? How do we discern? Are we all just faking it? He gives but never gives himself away.

True Crime questions ethical conundrums, the romanticization of murder, the relativity of truth, and the concept of alternative facts in the context of a post-election America. Penetrating, enigmatic, and utterly thrilling, it’s must-see theatre for any enamoured by the fantasy of being held captive by a seductive – even if dangerous – story.

A Castleton Massive production presented by Crow’s Theatre at the Centaur

Performances: January 8th to 27th, 2019
Venue: Centaur Theatre, 453 St. François-Xavier, Montreal, H2Y 2T1
Admission: $55 Adult | $30 Seniors/Students/Under 30
Box Office: | 514-288-3161

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