Sex, Heroin and Punk Rock: Trainspotting at the Elephant Theatre

By Raquel Sanchez

Staff Writer

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“I don’t know just where I’m going
But I’m gonna try for the kingdom, if I can
‘Cause it makes me feel like I’m a man
When I put a spike into my vein
And I’ll tell ya, things aren’t quite the same
When I’m rushing on my run
And I feel just like Jesus’ son
And I guess that I just don’t know
And I guess that I just don’t know”

~Heroin by The Velvet Underground 

As a fan of black comedies, Iggy Pop, and punk rock, The Elephant Theatre’s production of Trainspotting has a great soundtrack, a fantastic performance by Justin Zachary and alcohol in the lobby. What else can one possible ask for a night out in Hollywood?  Based on Irvine Welsh’s 1993 cult novel, Director Roger Mathey uses Harry Gibson’s stage adaption for this Los Angeles revival.

Trainspotting was originally staged in 1994 by the Glasgow Citizens Theatre. In 1996 Danny Boyle directed Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller in the film version.  Both the stage production and film helped propel Welsh’s novel into popular culture, driving Mathey to first produce and direct it in Los Angeles in 2002.

Trainspotting is a tale of disenfranchised Scottish youth trying to escape the banalities of life with heroin. They seek pleasure in alcohol, speed, ecstasy and most importantly in “dancing with Mr. Brownstone”. The audience witnesses the deterioration of young people attempting to nullify their lives.  Choose life… “, Renton says, “but why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

As a Danny Boyle fan, I’ve been itching to see a theatrical version of Trainspotting. I was curious whether a stage production could capture the graphic lifestyle of heroin addicts and The Elephant Theatre delivers. This small black box theater is an intimate setting for the play. The audience gets up close and personal with needles, excrement and sex. I ducked at one point imagining I was about to get splattered by shit. I winced and gagged through every heroin injection the actors took. Their orgasmic highs and withdrawal lows were worthy of any episode of Intervention. The actors brave enough to perform in the nude have my utmost admiration; The proximity of the stage left nothing to the imagination.

Justin Zachary is fucking awesome as Mark Renton. He leads an ensemble cast through Renton’s experiences with sex, drugs and defecation.  Zachary’s depiction of Renton’s attempts to kick heroin are grim, amusing, realistic and humiliating.  He reels you in the minute the lights come up and he wakes up in a strange room, a strange bed, in a puddle of his own filth. His self-deprecating storytelling almost prepares the audience for the often gruesome acts he falls prey to, shocking audience members into gagging, groaning or both. Renton’s friends became peripheral except for his relationship with his best friend Tommy. Their relationship was cohesive and the sense of brotherly love between the characters was apparent, until Tommy’s downward spiral into heroin addiction. A.J. Jones as Tommy was fun, endearing and tragic.

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There is a life affirming message within the play, but that message was lost within all the gruesome and violent acts the characters commit. There was often too much activity on the stage that competed with the monologues.  Although the ensemble cast was good, the dramatization was unnecessary and distracted from the performances.

Make it a night out to see The Elephant Theatre’s Trainspotting; how wrong can you really go with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll?

***

Trainspotting

Adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson

Based on a novel by Irvine Welsh

Directed by Roger Mathey

Performances:

March 9 through April 13, 2013

Elephant Theatre

6322 Santa Monica Blvd.

Hollywood, CA 90038

Tickets and additional Information at:

323-960-7785 or www.plays411.com/trainspotting

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