Los Angeles Theater Review: TRAINSPOTTING (Elephant Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Tom Chaits on March 15, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Whether L.A. theatergoers are ready or not, seat of your pants Productions has resurrected it’s much ballyhooed 2002 mounting of Henry Gibson’s Trainspotting at the Elephant Theatre in Hollywood and while much of its power remains intact, it is definitely not for the squeamish. All matter of human excrement and bodily fluids (and I do mean all) are on vivid display along with nudity, simulated sex, intravenous drug use, nearly non-stop smoking, violence, and language so colorful a drunken sailor would wince. Be forewarned, if your sensibilities might be offended by the sight of freely flung feces then you might want to opt for a different show. On the other hand, if the thought of a few tossed turds isn’t off-putting, then this just might be the show for you.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of TRAINSPOTTING at the Elephant Theatre, LAThe title refers to the rather inane and useless compulsion of those lost souls who obsessively clock the arrival and departure times of trains – the ultimate in wasting time. In addition it has also come to be known as slang for an addict finding just the right spot to inject his drugs along his track marks. Basically a coming of age story about a young junkie named Mark Renton and his band of wayward Scottish miscreants, the play follows the plot of Irvine Welsh’s 1993 cult novel much more closely than director Danny Boyle’s (Slumdog Millionaire) 1996 film version did. In the film there is at least a glimmer of hope that there is some escape from this hellish existence but in the play there is nowhere to go but down. It’s a gritty, gruesome and unyielding yarn that offers little chance of redemption or relief from a life of drudgery and despair. The story’s durable relevance to the reality faced today by many impoverished inner-city youth is a powerful reminder of society’s worldwide failure to address the basic human needs of the disenfranchised. While the story itself is a big downer, Mr. Gibson does manage to work quite a bit of levity into his script which prevents the evening from becoming completely oppressive.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of TRAINSPOTTING at the Elephant Theatre, LAReprising his role as Mark Renton, Justin Zachary is a theatrical force to be reckoned with. On stage for almost the entire show, he is the true backbone of the production. He gives a finely honed performance that always rings true. Considering that with the exception of his portrayal, the entire show is double cast, it is an amazing accomplishment. It must be an extraordinarily difficult feat to pull off. It’s hard enough to establish a trust, rapport, comfort level and believability quotient on stage with a single group of actors and he has to relate to two completely different sets of performers who each no doubt bring their own interpretations to their characters. His rises to the occasion brilliantly. I saw the Sunday cast, and while they were all capable I would have liked to have seen the Friday/Saturday cast which features a few other actors from the original production. The interaction of the Sunday crew is fine but I am betting the sparks really fly on the other nights.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of TRAINSPOTTING at the Elephant Theatre, LAAll of the performers use thick Scottish accents which take a little getting used to but once your ear adapts it’s mostly smooth sailing. In addition there is an abundance of Scottish street jargon used in the show. So much in fact the program features a glossary of terms to help you along the way. Many of the terms are self-explanatory – knob for penis or pish for piss – but other are not so obvious – Lee Marvin for starving or shunky for toilet. In any event, even without the glossary you can generally piece it all together.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of TRAINSPOTTING at the Elephant Theatre, LABack in the director’s chair is Roger Mathey. He was showered with numerous awards and accolades for his 2002 production and it is easy to see why. Under his deft hand the action seamlessly unfolds and the incredible situations which arise never seem forced or false. He maneuvers the cast around Jason Rupert’s stark and sparse set with an ease that allows the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks and paint their own pictures in their mind’s eye. He is aided in his quest by the moody lighting of Michael Mallinson and the original music and sound effects by James Dethlefsen and Brian Palla.

Trainspotting may not be everyone’s cup of theatrical tea but if for nothing other than the captivating performance by Justin Zachary it’s a trip worth taking.

photos by Tyson Wade Johnston

seat of your pants Productions at the Elephant Theatre in Hollywood
scheduled to end on April 13, 2013
EXTENDED to June 2, 2013
for tickets, call ­(323) 960-7785 or visit http://www.plays411.com/trainspotting

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