Hey, Hey, We're the Junkies

Sunday, May 7, 2006
Phoenix New Times

The heck with rehab. Anyone wanting to kick narcotics addiction should just go see Stray Cat Theatre's gloriously ugly production of Harry Gibson's Trainspotting. Crammed to capacity with pitch-perfect performances and almost unbearably realistic scenes of degradation, this stroll through addiction's dark night is enough to scare anyone off junk.

The play, based on the Irvine Welsh novel and best known from director Danny Boyle's popular 1996 film adaptation, is really just a series of monologues, spoken directly to the audience by addict Mark Renton, built around the nasty complications that arise from heroin addiction. The cast steps directly into enactments of shooting heroin; crib death; shit- and puke-encrusted bed sheets; and several revoltingly realistic acts of violence and deprivation, notably Mark's seduction of his pregnant sister-in-law in a public toilet at his own brother's funeral.

Directed with deliberately dark pessimism by Ron May, the play works best as a warped commentary on the horrors of drug addiction by striking a simple single note: This is a repulsive life, from which there's no escaping. May is good at conveying the tribal insularity of druggies with tightly confined movement and claustrophobic configurations of actors. Perhaps because he knows that a plot this slender and predetermined can lack urgency and menace, May allows his performers to deliver loud, rangy performances that leave us with no time to muse on the play's social allegory about the doom of the working class.

Kyle Sorrell is brilliant in the lead, balancing the horror and comedy in the text without ever toppling into camp, and never playing Mark as weird or deranged. There's a subtle regret under Sorrell's delighted crowing about the pleasure of getting high that lets us see the wretchedness beneath Mark's manic glee over not "choosing Life," which he sees as a materialistic, bourgeois existence.

Equally stunning is Cale Epps, who gives a powerhouse performance as Begbie, a sick fuck extraordinaire who runs roughshod over Mark and every other living thing he comes into contact with. Kerry McCue and Laura Wilkinson handle the roles of young, put-upon Edinburgh women. Each has a monologue toward the end of Act Two that provides a gentler counterpoint to a play that's angry and anguished; one that points a dark, dirty finger at a run-down society but is somehow still uplifting in its way.