By Harry Gibson, Irvine Welsh and Tom Mullen
Directed by Tom Mullen
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Dec 2 | tickets: $32 | more info
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Ambitious adaptation takes us on a psychedelic ride
|Book and Lyrics Theatricals and Gold Coast Tickets present|
Review by Keith Glab
In an incredible coincidence, Trainspotting USA is one of two Scottish stories adapted to a central United States setting that opens in Lakeview this week (TheMASSIVE’s Macbeth: As the Dust Settles opens October 20 next door at Stage 773). Irvine Welsh’s definitive tale of young, Scottish heroin addicts was initially adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson in 1996. This “re-adaption” by Chicago director Tom Mullen sets the story in Kansas City, MO and includes new material penned by Welsh.
Heroin usage has been on the rise in this country over the past few years, but particularly so in southwestern Missouri. By setting Welsh’s iconic story in a culture more easily relatable to Americans, Mullen makes the issues involved less abstract. Basketball, Wal-Mart, Megabus, and cheerleading get woven into the tale, though the Americanized elements often seem a little forced.
All of the characters from the novel/movie return in this adaptation with the same names. Mark Renton (Shane Kenyon), an addict trying to extricate himself from drug culture, narrates the action. Sometimes this narration is live and other times a pre-recorded track is broadcast, and it often isn’t clear why one method is used instead of the other. The supporting male characters take a while to establish themselves – distinguished more by Renton’s narration than their own actions – and anyone unfamiliar with the story may have trouble following along at first.
Eventually, these characters come into focus. Spud (Cameron Johnson) is a paranoid, nervous wreck and gives a particularly fun performance during his job interview at Wal-Mart. Tommy (Jay Cullen) garners sympathy as a pained soul, even though his plight is more deserved in this adaptation than in the movie. Thad Anzur makes Begbie sufficiently coarse and unlikeable, but ultimately doesn’t do enough to distinguish that character from the drug dealer character he doubles as.
Conversely, Jenny Lamb is asked to portray about a dozen different characters aged fourteen to forties. With the exception of a weak Mexican accent for one of them, she does one heck of a job differentiating between characters without making them caricatures. She is afforded hardly any time for costume changes but never appears unprepared or out of sorts onstage. You can question why she is tasked with such a burden rather than splitting the roles among two actresses, but her energy and execution are unquestionably impressive.
Although the plot mostly stays true to the movie, the “reverse drug run” to Mexico strains believability, perhaps in part because it is the climactic scene and feels rushed. I’m not all that familiar with Porno, Welsh’s sequel to Trainspotting, but it seems that a scene from that got randomly inserted into the middle of this adaptation.
Where this production really succeeds is in the realization of the graphic imagery from the movie. The entire design team should take a bow with the cast at curtain call. Trippy music, creative lighting, and a rotating stage are used to enhance the production’s psychedelic feel. All of the iconic images from the movie are present in some form, and a couple of new ones are added. At some point, you will squirm in your seat. There is nudity – usually germane to the story, though occasionally gratuitous.
Although Trainspotting USA sometimes gets a little off track, it never derails. With its evocative imagery, dark humor, and pertinent message, this train is definitely worth riding.
Trainspotting USA continues through December 2nd at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 7pm and 9:30pm, Sundays 5pm. Tickets are $32.50, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org. More info at TrainspottingUSA.com. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Cameron Johnson
behind the scenes
Tom Mullen (director); Keaton Wooden (producer); Dan Conley (set design); Jennifer Kules (lighting); Bill Morey (costumes); Zach Thostesen (sound design); Kyle A. Dougan (asst. director); Christopher N. Tisone (stage manager); Barbara Trinh (pr0ops); Cameron Johnson (photos)