The Woodsman is about a monster. Steven Fechter's play centers on a man, Walter, who has returned after spending 12 years in prison after molesting a string of 10- to 12-year-old girls.
He isn't Freddy Krueger, quipping and killing his victims as a force of pure evil. He's a man with very dark impulses that may or may not be under control.
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Walter's complexities and new resolve are put to the test in this new environment. There's a school across the street, and temptations all around. Beyond that, there's a man he's nicknamed Candy who is preying on the boys at the school.
All of this heaviness could be unbearable, but Fechter's script offers such a fascinating character that we can't turn away. Adam Whisner is absolutely riveting in the role, creating a living and breathing man out of the various contradictory pieces of Walter's life.
Eric Hoover's spare direction and the equally spare staging, which is dominated by stark, black-and-white illustrations that could have been drawn from a children's book, only help to focus our attention on Whisner's performance and the rest of the characters.
From his therapist to his brother-in-law to a new girlfriend, everyone tries to find their space with the man. It almost comes as a relief when a police officer, Lucas, enters the play. He doesn't have any second thoughts about Walter. He is a monster who should have been remained in prison, not let back out on the streets.
Walter's journey has been dark, and continues to live in shadow throughout the play. Near the end, he appears to backslide, and strikes up a series of conversations with a young girl, Robin, who likes to watch birds in a nearby park.
These scenes are uncomfortable, unsettling, and far more frightening than any dozen Nightmare on Elm Street movies, or other horror films of that ilk. The Woodsman eventually lets us out on the other side, but not before forcing us to ask a lot of questions about dark impulses, criminal behavior, and the possibility of redemption.
IF YOU GO:
The Woodsman Through Sunday Nimbus Theatre 1517 Central Ave. NE., Minneapolis $14-$41 For tickets and more information, call 612-234-7135 or visit online.