Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Pro Rata shoots-up a tough high with Trainspotting
I understood perhaps 60 percent of the characters' thick-as-porridge Scottish brogues in Theatre Pro Rata's Trainspotting, but I was gob-smacked all the same.
This is Harry Gibson's stage adaptation of the novel by Irvine Welsh that splays wide the blighted underbelly of Scotland's elegant city, Edinburgh. Made into a movie in 1996, Trainspotting developed a core following, and Theatre Pro Rata's bleak production has the same potential.
The material feels dead-on real. Trainspotting dips into the life of Mark, a likeable and articulate young bloke, whose days and hours are driven by his need for heroin. He rejects conventional life, with its pointless accumulation of material things and the begetting of children who must then endure, as he endures. He attempts to go clean but slips back into his world of drugs and sex, where he and his friends exist from high to glorious high by stealing and by collecting the dole (unemployment benefit) as their lives spiral down the drain.
If you can catch the dialogue, Trainspotting is pitch-black funny. It opens and ends with Mark waking up in the filth of his own vomit and excretions. Meanwhile, Mark coaches his friend Tommy on how to qualify for the dole. To collect it, you must prove you have tried to get a job. Mark's trick is to go to an interview and to reveal that he has a wee problem with heroin addiction. We watch Mark and his friends cooking up smack over a candle, tying off their arms with their belts, raising veins and shooting up. Alison and Sick Boy go off to fuck and find that her baby is dead. Mark buys opium suppositories to wean himself off skag and shits them into a blocked up lavatory. Regardless of the needle holes in his arms, he gropes around in the stinking mire until he retrieves both suppositories, and he reinserts them. Begbie beats up his pregnant girlfriend. Mark has sex with his dead brother's pregnant wife at the funeral. A waitress squeezes her used Tampax into the soup of a detestable customer.
The play tells its story by looking in on disconnected scenes in Mark's life. Director Carin Bratlie sets Trainspotting on a grubby board floor, with just a mattress, a blanket and two metal chairs for props. The unadorned walls of the Theater Garage provide a grungy backdrop.
Bratlie's cast of four young actors play some eleven roles, but she has them do little with body language or shifts in tone to distinguish between their multiple roles. I wondered if she intended to comment on how addiction reduces people to a sameness, but I suspect that the considerable feat of realizing the Scots accent took precedence over subtleties in acting.
In a strong portrayal of Mark, Joe Papke nails his character's tender center, his pain and his anger at a society skewed by rotten values and pointless consumerism. Papke also served as the dialect coach and has done a remarkable job. The heavy accents might be hard to understand, but they sound authentic to my English ear.
Nate Forneris plays Tommy, Sick Boy and a Drunk. Tommy, vulnerable and sweet, happily obsesses about having sex from behind with his girlfriend, before he falls prey to a greater obsession. Stick-thin Forneris convinces nicely as Tommy, but does little more than change his look to distinguish the savvy Sick Boy from the naive Tommy.
Pretty Shannon Tessler handles the roles of Alison and feisty June and a Lassie in a Pub; I tracked who she was less by shifts in acting and more by Mark telling who she was.
The same problem marks Sam Landman's four roles. Apart from the personnel man, Mr. McKay, Landsman plays Johnny, Begbie and the Boy in the Pub with single-note harshness. They might all be harsh characters, and the ignorant and abusive Begbie positively made my skin crawl, but the way Landman interprets them, all three could have been the same man. Landman delivers his coarse Scottish brogue at such machine-gun pace that, although I could catch plenty of "fuckin's" and "cunts," most of his words were unintelligible to me. I suspect that some humor was lost in the bullet-spray of his delivery.
Though not perfect, Theatre Pro Rata's Trainspotting gives a blackly funny and searingly honest picture of life at the bottom. I left the theater feeling as though I'd been punched squarely in the chops; I was both touched and disturbed by the pain in the lives I had just witnessed. Trainspotting November 22 - December 29. Fridays & Saturdays 10 p.m. The Theater Garage, 711, Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis. $10-$12. Call: 612-874-9321.