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Review: Racing toward oblivion via 'Trainspotting'

April 19, 2013|By Margaret Gray
  • Mark Renton (Justin Zachary, right) introduces his friend Tommy (David Agranov) to heroin in "Trainspotting" at the Elephant Theatre.
Mark Renton (Justin Zachary, right) introduces his friend Tommy (David… (Tyson Wade Johnston )

Unfortunately for Roger Mathey's Seat of Your Pants Productions, the company behind the enthusiastically assaultive "Trainspotting" at the Elephant Theatre, neither the L.A. Drama Critics Circle nor the L.A. Stage Alliance offers an award for most excrement onstage. Or least decipherable Scottish brogue.

This production's popularity (it's a reprise of an award-winning version directed by Mathey in 2002 at Theatre/Theater with many of the same actors, and its run has just been extended) will have to serve as the only acknowledgment of these accomplishments.

Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel (which also inspired the 1996 Danny Boyle film) transplants Welsh’s heroin addicts from 1980s Edinburgh, Scotland, into a black-box theater (or at least, Jason Rupert’s set at the Elephant is very black and boxy). A descendant of “The Catcher in the Rye,” the novel uses the disenchantment of bright young people to point up society’s hypocrisies.

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But stripped of context, the characters’ behavior, like their accents, is harder to understand. When Alison (Alison Walter), a waitress, serves customers a meal laced with her own body fluids, her rage seems as mystifyingly over-the-top as Titus Andronicus'. 

Gibson preserves Welsh’s lyrical first-person text by having alluring bad boy Mark Renton (Julian Zachary) provide his own voice-over, describing what he and the other characters are doing as we watch them do it. This dual narrative strategy succeeds best in reminding us that writers usually choose one or the other, and that Mark's adventures, while certainly dramatic, are not necessarily theatrical. Most of them, after all, happen in his head and in his veins.

Zachary’s appeal transcends this contrivance, as well as an opening in which he flings feces across the stage, and during the ensuing fracas of shooting up, sex and shouting, he is a relative beacon of comprehensibility.

The rest of the cast is energetic and courageous, stripping off clothing or donning startling wigs to become a wide variety of characters, but their identities and their accents are often equally cryptic. I could not understand a single word that Matt Tully, playing thuggish Begby, shouted; his performance, along with the comically speedy descent of clean-cut Tommy (a bouncy David Agranov) after his first hit, made me think that the time might be ripe for a “Trainspotting” parody. This production is halfway there.

"Trainspotting," Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 2. $15 and $20. (323) 960-7785 or www.plays411.com/trainspotting. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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