“Tom Walker” transforms old tale into superb theatre old tale into superb theatre


From beginning to end, New Theatre’s complex fable of a man who sells his soul to the devil, makes one contemplate the aspects of life that are conflicted with greed and passion.

Hearing the live violin music helps to place the audience in the timely setting of the 18th century. “Tom Walker,” written by John Strand, stars a middle-aged man, played by Stephen S. Neal, who allows his desire for riches to overpower him.

This leads to a deal with an “alleged” black Lucifer. As Lucious Smith (AKA the devil) says himself, in a role masterfully played by Robert Strain, “the devil dwells in every man’s heart,” and this play follows that decree and then some.

The universality of the title character, Tom Walker, helps swindle the audience into a plot that appears sinfully predictable, but, of course, is not. Lisa Morgan delights the audience in dual roles as the love interests in Tom Walker’s life. One lover is a crude, miserly woman, and the other, a cherished asset to his life. Tom’s initial wife seems to fall straight from the lines of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” with a cross-pollination of the Bible’s Book of Job.

“Death makes a man think,” and so does this slyly told tale of mirth and avidity. One might find it difficult to imagine being corrupted by a passion for riches, and the audience clearly beholds this conviction in Tom Walker as a character.

It is almost painful to watch this flaw consume him so far into the play, as Walker himself describes: “All my gold I’d give back to purchase my poverty.” A small cast of characters, including a stand-out performance by Tara Reid, as the narrator Cora, and Ken Clement and David Perez-Ribada, who play several roles, help round out this study of the life of an alcoholic, middle-aged fiddler with tight-knit sufficiency.

This is the recreation of a “legend” that goes beneath the surface, to entertain and instruct individuals who wished to be moved emotionally. “This land is full of Tom Walkers,” is an excerpt that cannot possess more truth.

“Tom Walker” plays through September 15, 2002 at the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Call (305) 443-5909 for more information.

Josh Caraballo can be reached at email4josh@aol.com.