Crichton shines in solo show Divide

To describe Joel Crichton’s production called Divide as thought-provoking would be an understatement of unimaginable proportions.

That may sound over the top, but the gifted actor/writer’s newest theatrical outing, currently being staged by Ignition Theatre at Nickel Studio, unflinchingly plumbs the depths of pain, heartbreak, emptiness, regret and the human experience like few solo shows can.

Divide runs through March 25. Doors open at 7 p.m. with curtain at 7:30 p.m.

There is also a matinee on March 25 at 2 p.m.

Crichton transforms himself into three very different characters during the course of Divide – first, as himself tackling the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island with his own relentless slate of questions and ponderings.

Part two is told from the perspective of his son some 30 years in the future who has embarked on a troubling pilgrimage to the Vatican along the route to Santiago.

It’s a bleak world, having been ravaged by climate change, horrendous conflict and food shortages.

Finally, we meet Joel’s granddaughter whose story occurs another 30 years or so down the road. She’s on a scientific pilgrimage on a ship, but has other pressing personal issues to face. That’s really the case with each character.

As Crichton has explained, they are all searching for something. But more interestingly, they are running away from things as well.

There’s much of Crichton in the play, but of course we witness the power of his skill at developing characters as well. Much of the inspiration was sparked with a recent journey he made — back in September, Crichton left France on a journey to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

The route he took, called ‘The Way of St. James’, was used by pilgrims in medieval times to visit the site of St. James’ burial.

For Crichton, he was at something of a crossroads and had pretty much decided he wanted to quit acting. He wanted to think about moving away from various other projects of an artistic nature, even considering a return to school to study engineering.

Upon arrival in Santiago, he decided to continue onto Portugal. The adventure continued with a stint onboard a tall ship which was bound for the Canary Islands. He later spent some time at Cape Verde, off the coast of Senegal. As Christmas approached, he flew to Rome and then it was off to Germany, Prague and lastly Crichton ended his trip with visits to Vienna and Salzburg, Austria.

It was during his last day in Europe he penned the first draft of Divide. He had been writing bits of the script throughout his trip, but finally the pieces came together for the very personal story.

Reflecting on the performance, the biggest impact comes from Crichton’s own insight. He’s not afraid to ask any kind of question, to explore his own spirituality, or to put belief systems to the test.

Each character grapples with where they are in life and what they are witnessing around them. And it’s in those moments the power of Divide really shines through.

Life is messy, and meaning can be elusive. We live with the sting and regret of decisions made long ago. Where do we go from here? How do we come to a place of peace?

Virtually nothing is left untouched as Crichton pours his heart out onstage. Indeed — the strength of Divide comes squarely from his terrific performance which doesn’t weaken or waver for an instant.

He speaks, he sings, he raps, he pleads for connection – and it’s ultimately a moving, powerful and deeply personal performance. Some of it isn’t exactly clear to us, but it doesn’t really matter. Looked at as a whole, we know he’s on a quest and we feel welcome to be a part of it.

Years back, I remember watching Crichton in shows during his time at Red Deer College, and he was always, without fail, one to stand out.

His wit, his passion and his art have always been striking. You just knew this was a gifted individual with much to say.

Divide, I believe, proves his sheer range of talent that much more and shows he’s just scratching the surface of what he has to give us as well.

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