by Lynn on April 6, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by Peter Pasyk
Set and Lighting by Patrick Lavender
Costumes by Jenna McCutchen
Sound by Christopher Stanton
Cast: Matthew Edison
Vivien Endicott-Douglas
Paul Fauteux
Matthew Gouveia
Madison Walsh

An explosive first play by Tracy Letts is given a gripping production by director Peter Pasyk for Coal Mine Theatre.

The Play. Chris Smith needs a lot of money to pay off two guys. He doesn’t have the money. He was going to sell some cocaine to get the money but then his mother took the drugs—Chris doesn’t know where–and now he doesn’t have the drugs either. He goes to his father, Ansel, to see if he can help. But as Ansel lives in a trailer with his second wife Sharla and his developmentally challenged daughter Dottie from his first marriage, Ansel can’t help him either. Chris hears that his mother has a hefty insurance policy and that Dottie is the beneficiary. Christ gets a bright idea. He will hire Joe Cooper, a detective with a little business on the side, to take care of his mother, and I don’t mean that in a good way. And that’s just the beginning of Tracy Letts’ muscular, raucous, hilarious, dangerous, sad play.

The Production. The play takes place in Ansel’s trailer home in the outskirts’ of Dallas, Texas. Patrick Lavender has designed the place with cheap, worn furniture. Garbage is flung in the corners. The fridge is stocked with beer and little else.

It’s a bleak, constricted world and director Peter Pasyk carefully guides his cast to realize every seedy, gripping moment of it.

It’s the middle of the night and Chris is banging furiously on the door of his father’s trailer. His mother has kicked him out of her house and he needs somewhere to go. Matthew Gouveia plays Chris with a ferocious desperation and yet a tenderness when dealing with his sister Dottie. For all his swagger and pushiness, Gouveia portrays Chris as a disappointed man with no future, except perhaps with his sister. He has such conviction that this wild scheme will solve his problems. His father, Ansel, is dim (a lovely performance by Paul Fauteux) but tries to put up a strong front to his son. Ansel’s wife Sharla is wily and secretive in Madison Walsh’s strutting performance. Dottie is that child-woman who is certainly pray for someone smarter and more calculating. She is played with pouty innocence by Vivien Endicott-Douglas. While Dottie is fragile-minded you get the sense, in Endicott-Douglas’s performance, that Dottie can hold her own.

But the play is called Killer Joe and he is played with a deep-voiced courtliness by Matthew Edison. Joe is generally an almost formal speaker. He is polite. He pulls out the chair for Dottie to sit in. He is a gentleman, except for the danger lurking below the well-mannered veneer. While the others are frantic, Joe moves gracefully and slowly. He is commanding. People are afraid of him for good reason. Again, Pasyk carefully establishes the play’s explosive moments with detail and nuance. For the whole of the play the audience is right in its grip, holding on tight.

Comment. Killer Joe is Tracy Letts’ first play. He wrote it when he was 25 according to the program notes. He’s now 50. Since then he’s written several more plays including: Bug, Superior Donuts, and the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award Winning August: Osage County. Letts is also an actor and won a Tony Award for his performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Letts writes about people whose ambition is no higher than their toenails. They are usually uneducated and unskilled. They are passed over, forgotten and angry about it. Letts exploded onto the theatre scene with Killer Joe, introducing audiences to characters and situations that are angry and complex; language that is vivid and vulgar; and characters who are tough, resilient and dangerous. They are haunted by their pasts or a bleak future. They play the angles. They are also unknowingly hilarious in their vitriol and frustration. This is the Toronto premier of Killer Joe. It was a long time coming. More please, quickly.

Produced by Coal Mine Theatre

Opened: April 5, 2016.
Closes: April 24, 2016.
Cast: 5: 3 men, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.