I Walked the Line: Solidarity, sisters and brothers!

I Walked the Line, Allan Morgan, Firehall Theatre

Allan Morgan really did walk the line when his union was locked out in Burnaby.

Allan Morgan is a big ol’ homo. That’s a big part of why his solo show I Walked the Line is such a glorious celebration of resilience, compassion, and belonging.

In September of 2014, the lights went down for the last time on Morgan’s triumphant portrayal of Prospero in The Tempest at Bard on the Beach. He had already accumulated an impressive list of credits that stretched back over 30 years. But no more work came. As he notes at the beginning of I Walked the Line, acting “is not a profession for the financially weak of heart.”

After months of accumulating panic and depression, he accepted a job that his union-connected brother lined up for him and became a mail clerk, a member of one union in the employ of another— “not playing the part of a mail clerk”, he points out, but “being an actual mail clerk.”

It didn’t take him long to turn running the mail cart around the multi-storied office building into a kind of performance art. He celebrated birthdays and retirements with laminated photos on the front of his cart. He set up little quizzes about fun facts for Wednesday hump days: “What percentage of the life forms on Earth are aquatic?” On Easter he wore bunny ears.

This was all happening in Burnaby. “I had some fond ideas of people who lived in the suburbs,” he admits, but his affection for his co-workers quickly grew and they returned the favour. One day, a woman shyly asked him to come shopping with her: “I’ve always wanted to go shopping with a gay guy.” Now that’s solidarity.

Then the union he was working for turned on the union he was a part of. Morgan found himself locked out and walking the picket line.

In a kind of coming of age, he realized that left-wing idealism can be betrayed by union politics that reproduce the terms of corporate exploitation. But the core solidarity continued.

“The creation of community is a theatrical skill” Morgan notes. On the line, he threw himself into nurturing his newfound friends, partly through his outrageousness, getting a honk from a passing trucker, for instance, by doing a high kick.

How gay is that? For me, that’s part of the beauty of I Walked the Line: camp is imagination and defiance forged into resistance. It’s about punching up, celebrating the underdog, defending the vulnerable — which is, of course, what all unions should be doing. During I Walked the Line, I sang “Solidarity Forever” with Morgan and the rest of the audience and it brought tears to my eyes.

The script doesn’t entirely sustain itself. In the latter going, Morgan quotes a lot of Facebook posts that he wrote while on the line. Like the rest of the show, they’re well written but, even though it’s punctuated by betrayals and occasional successes, the plot goes flat for a while until it rounds the corner into its resolution.

Part of the reason for that might also be found in camp, which is, to a significant degree, a celebration of the individual self. A camp performer is often a showboat — think of drag queens — and that can be a lonely role to take on. In I Walked the Line, Morgan refers to his “unionista” friends, but he never seriously introduces us to them. We know that he’s loved, but it’s like the anonymous love of an audience.

I Walked the Line might have more shape in its middle section if it were more concerned with developing relationships and less concerned with posts on Facebook.

But I was still so grateful for this show that I shouted “Thank you!” at the end.

I WALKED THE LINE By Allan Morgan. Directed by Ross Desprez. A Bread and Roses Theatre production sponsored by The Other Guys Theatre and presented by the Firehall Arts Centre. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Sunday, October 18. Runs until October 25. Tickets.

 

NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get links to my reviews plus the best of international theatre coverage, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.

And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!