Wednesday, September 22, 2010

COTU unloads the ultimate gross-out

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 at 5:08 PM


I’ve been married to my dear indulgent Sue for more than 11 years and dragging her to see local theater productions for more than 12. But before last Saturday night, she never had a better reason to ask me, “How could you take me to see such shit?” For in the current Citizens of the Universe adaptation of Trainspotting, the sensational 1996 Brit flick revel in the pitfalls of heroin addiction (based on Irvine Welsh’s novel), flying shit bespatters the walls of the Story Slam performing space at the end of the opening scene. Then bookending Act 1, it comes splashing toward us, out of the nastiest toilet bowl in Scotland, just before intermission.

Fortunately, the two scenes forming this fecal sandwich are nearly as funny as they are gross, certainly among the most hilarious I’ve seen this year. Even more fortunately, director James Cartee and his guerilla chemists aren’t simulating the smells of these scenes along with the sludgy sights. Otherwise, Sue and I would have made a beeline for Central Avenue. We were courteously warned, by the playbill and Cartee’s curtain speech, that the front rows should be considered splash zones (although sewage was not mentioned), so we did retreat to the second row. Tipped off during the break that there would be no further shit in Act 2 – or I should say shite, since most of the Edinburgh folk have accents thicker than diarrhea – we returned safely to the front.

The font of all the shite spewage is our narrator/hero Mark Renton, whom we first encounter waking up in a strange bed that he has thoroughly befouled, aside from the aforementioned solids, with vomit, urine, and a sprinkle of semen. Such are the repellent degradations experienced by a truly devout junkie, and it would be cruel to divulge how Mark’s private shame hilariously and unforgettably explodes at his hosts’ breakfast table. Suffice it to say that Berry Newkirk, so scintillating last month as the mastermind in Queen City Theatre’s Rope, is every bit as perfect here and far more charming. And let’s not overlook Mark’s redeeming qualities, for it is on the road to kicking his dependency that Newkirk must muck around in that ugly, graffiti-decorated toilet. The graffiti, by set designer Diego Francico, is lavished over a scenic concept best described as urban outhouse.

It’s Stephen West-Rogers who turns this production into something of a foreign language travail without the benefit of subtitles, for I may be wildly exaggerating if I claim to have understood 40% of the slang-infested brogue he speaks as Francis Begbie, Mark’s best bud. Still the violent vehemence of this obviously cynical and embittered young man needs no translation, and West-Rogers is mercifully intelligible in his other six roles.

Everyone else in the cast has at least three different roles as this picaresque kaleidoscope unfolds. Joel Sumner is the most affecting as Tommy, the clean-cut friend who too easily persuades Mark to cook up his first dose of smack – and is a totally lost soul from that moment on. Chris Freeman is most memorable as Johnny Swan, the déclassé local drug dealer who isn’t above it all.

Women have lesser roles here – we are back in the 80s, after all – but they can be vivid nonetheless. This is especially true for Mimi Harkness, who is an abused girlfriend, a battered wife, and perhaps most indelibly, a stoned dominatrix among her seven incarnations. Kaddie Sharpe is quite capable as a couple of the girlfriends we encounter along the way, including the one whose home Mark wakes up in at the start, but she’s not the sensation she was last year in Fight Club. On the other hand, Jenny Wright is haunting as Allison, a rather criminally unfit mother – to us and to Mark, who hallucinates about Allison’s dead baby in the throes of withdrawal.

A top 10 film in BFI’s list of the 100 best Brit flicks of the 20th Century, Trainspotting wasn’t exactly drawing a sellout crowd at Story Slam last Saturday night when we went. So this week, they’re reducing tickets to $10. At that price, you’ve got to see this shit.

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