Chicago Theater Review: TRAINSPOTTING USA (Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 17, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


The 1996 film Trainspotting was notorious for its spare-no-sensitivity, take-no-prisoners look at Edinburgh heroin addicts. Based on Irvine Welsh’s bottom-feeding novel, it traced the tailspins of a fractured family of junkies. Always meaning to go clean, these loud losers would do anything for their next fix: they stole and sold electronics, drugs or themselves to juice up the unclean needles that punctured them just as arrows had pierced the body of Saint Sebastian. And sometimes they just watched trains.

Equally unconstrained and working from a grungy adaptation by Harry Gibson, director Tom Mullen (with new material from Welsh) has updated and relocated this Jean Genet-like slum-fest to Kansas City, circa NOW. Short on sympathy but strong on spectacle, Mullen’s rampaging, 90-minute tour de sewer, a gag-reflex sensation from Theater Wit, resembles Maxim Gorki’s The Lower Depths on roids. An hour later you just may need to detox.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of TRAINSPOTTING USA at Theater Wit, Chicago

As narrated by head user Mark (the strangely boy-next-door Shane Kenyon), this crack-brained confessional exposes Mark and his hophead pals: These bad boys (and goodtime girls) indulge in or contend with kneejerk sex, occasional overdoses, clumsy internet porn parodies, armed robbery, manic job interviews, desultory hoop games, doomed efforts at rehab and reform, self-medication with Xanax, uncontrolled bowel movements, and fouled bed sheets. (These last two are reason enough to refrain from eating before, and perhaps after, seeing Trainspotting USA.)

Not for a frigging moment is this overkill left to the audience’s imagination. Mark proudly shows us the separate plastic buckets he keeps for piss, shit and puke. His pal Sick Boy (Rian Jairell) schemes but never dreams. We see two very different—but equally repulsive—versions of a bar fight. We watch, stunted in horror, as Jay W. Cullen’s comparatively innocent Tommy takes his first hit, and then later succumbs to a debilitating degenerative disease. We watch as abuser Allison (Jenny Lamb) discovers her neglected baby has frozen to death, news so terrible that, well, she has to shoot up (after her incessant wailing becomes like nails on a chalkboard). We watch Mark and his moronic friends, desperate for more smack (Wal-Mart just doesn’t pay enough), as they plot and carry out a “reverse run”: They smuggle illegal pharmaceuticals into Mexico, a gambit that goes terribly wrong, not because of customs, but because there’s no honor among addicts. Mark also discovers he’s a father in the worst way possible. In the last scene he’s running on a treadmill: This can only end badly.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of TRAINSPOTTING USA at Theater Wit, Chicago

All the time, as the stage revolves on a turntable but the characters go nowhere, they’re justifying, defending, equivocating: Drugs tell you no lies: When they work they make you feel more joy than the world offers and, when they trash you bad, you taste the world’s total shittiness. Life is pointless; you might as well be ten feet above the ground as six feet under.

Scatological as a landfill, it’s a raunchy rollercoaster, most of it believable even if you’ve never shot up or come down. But the opening-night laughs (nervous titters more than shocks of recognition) quickly dried up as it became clear that Trainspotting USA is, bottom line, an exercise in excess. No question, sadistic friends are going to dare their uptight pals to see this show. But if Jimmy told you to jump off a bridge, would you really..? You know the rest.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of TRAINSPOTTING USA at Theater Wit, Chicago

photos by Cameron Johnson

Trainspotting USA
presented by Jeffrey Brunstein, Laura St. James, Tom Mullen and Tom Chiola
in association with Keaton Wooden and Book and Lyrics Theatricals LLC
Theater Wit in Chicago
scheduled to end on December 2, 2012
for tickets call 773-975-8150 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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