My review of The Woodsman (on now at the Pacific Theatre) is in the Westender.
By Andrea Warner
Pedophiles and child molesters don’t make sympathetic protagonists, but they do make complex ones. Written by Steven Fechter in 1994, in response to Megan’s Law—which required authorities to notify communities when a known sexual offender lived in their midst—the Canadian debut of The Woodsman tackles a child molester’s attempt at rehabilitation after returning to his hometown following 12 years in prison. While the volatile subject matter is handled with grace and dignity, the actual production boasts moments both compelling and clunky.
Dirk van Stralen is fantastically creepy-yet-human as Walter, a dead-man-walking the tightrope between his desire to change and his desire for 12-year-old girls. Walter wants to re-acclimate to society, and is frustrated that his time served and his therapy sessions haven’t made him “normal.” His choice of apartment across the street from an elementary school seems suspect to his brother-in-law, Carlos, and to the cop, Lucas, who watches his every move, but it also lets him spy on a man he calls Candy who seems to be scoping the schoolyard for little boys. Walter’s relationship with a co-worker, Nikki (Rebecca deBoer, who struggles with some of her line delivery), does little to banish his demons either, despite her belief he’s a “good man.”
The cast commits to the uncomfortable material with gusto and earnest heart. The show’s best moments are its toughest ones, particularly when Walter befriends a little girl in the woods. It’s impossible to know for sure at the play’s end whether Walter will remain part of the 20 percent of rehabilitated sexual offenders. This is the interesting grey area around second chances: Walter’s redemption will be a lifelong battle. Though bravely tackling these thorny issues, the script feels uneven, and certain smaller details detract rather than add (for example, the therapist’s reclamation of his Jewish ancestry feels pointless; it should either take up more space or none at all). The Woodsman packs strong muscle, but is ultimately hampered by its dull blade.