With the 1981 drama The Crackwalker, Canadian playwright Judith Thompson wrote a nearly ideal script for ambitious young theater companies. A brave and brutal tale of troubled down-and-outers in Kingston, Ontario, it furnishes actors with loads of opportunity to cry, spit, scream, blaspheme, hit each other, and generally run amok. With the wrong ambitious young theater company, it could be two hours of sorry melodrama. But in the hands of Project Y Theater Company, The Crackwalker is energetic, riveting, and disquieting. The story follows two couples as they scheme for a modicum of happiness and stability in a world beset by poverty and alcoholism. Sandy (Krista Welter) and Alan (Tyson Lien) are hard-drinking toughies—he beats and humiliates her; she likes it. Theresa (Suzanne Richard) and Joe (Andrew Smith) are stubbornly sweet-natured, but the pair teeters on the brink of being overwhelmed by their considerable mental problems. As mildly retarded Theresa, who lives for doughnuts and love, Richard is an unaffected marvel, imbuing the entire stage with emotional depth. Other performances are more uneven, chiefly because the actors’ rawness doesn’t seem genuine and they occasionally condescend to their characters. (The clunky Canadian accents can be a problem, too.) But director Michole Biancosino has done a solid job of bringing out the play’s hard, unhinged humor and sense of desperate longing; her characters prowl the DCAC’s stage like caged animals. And the tenderness that makes it all work glints just below the rough surface. (“You look nice,” Alan tells Sandy upon returning from several months working in the States. “I changed the way I do my eyeliner,” she replies.) Set and costumes are of a bargain-basement variety—Project Y should lose the plastic plants awkwardly stuck on the wall. Gary Raymond Fry Jr.’s lighting, by contrast, offers alternately stark clarity and soft foreboding, which well serve a powerful production that once again proves Project Y’s potential. —Neda Ulaby