I first met Walker Brown in the pages of The Globe and Mail. That is where his father, Ian, painted a portrait of life with a boy who defies easy labels, a boy who challenges us to look inward as we try to figure him out. The Globe series planted the seeds for a full-length book infused with a searing honesty, laced with humour and shaped by insights hewn by some of the finest writing in the land. The Boy in the Moon left its mark across Canada, and beyond. It won the Trillium Book Award and Charles Taylor Prize and was lauded as one of the Ten Best Books of 2011 by the New York Times Book Review.
The book is subtitled A Father’s Search for his Disabled Son. The quiet power of theatre can be transformative as a search chronicled between two covers is stretched and pulled in new directions on stage. Voices are amplified: the stage version of The Boy in the Moon weaves in conversations I had with Walker’s mother, Johanna Schneller, and his sister, Hayley. Reflections that Ian shared beyond the world of the book – during an interview in Australia, in an online documentary – have also been stitched into the script. Some passages on stage were hatched during a talk with Ian and Johanna around their dining room table. Add the voices of seasoned actors, the vision of gifted designers and the passion of a committed director and suddenly – briefly – the moon is that much closer.
To search is to question. I was drawn to Ian’s book because of the compelling, difficult questions he asks. I felt driven to plant many of those same questions on stage. What is the value of a life like Walker’s? It is not a life that can be measured by traditional yardsticks. You need a different measuring stick, let alone a different yard. The Boy in the Moon doesn’t serve up any tidy, bite-sized answers because there are none. We’re left, instead, to sort through an experience – complicated, colourful, painful, moving – that has been dropped in our laps.
The last time I saw Walker he was in a stroller guided by Olga, his nanny, in a park close to his home. Olga rarely stopped singing to him as she circled the block over and over again. Every so often Walker would be on his feet, dancing. It was a warm summer day but on that June morning the sun was a mere afterthought. I beheld Walker Brown, and thanks to his father’s words and his family’s love, I saw him in a different light.