Patrick Keating may be the only ex-con who refused to leave when he was due for release. Why? He’d been cast in Ubu Roi inside Matsqui Correctional Institution where he was serving time for the armed robbery of a TD bank and he didn’t want to let the rest of the cast down. When pressed by the prison officials, he replied that one of the things he’d learned in jail was to take responsibility. “This,” he told them, “is me bein’ responsible.”
He stayed, the show went on, and he left Matsqui Correctional when he was ready. Bitten by the theatre bug, he enrolled in SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts.
Keating has gone on to become an actor with a long list of credentials including TV (Stargate, Smallville and The X-Files) and stage (A Lie of the Mind, Cold Comfort, Glengarry Glen Ross and Penelope, amongst a long list of other critically acclaimed shows).
Presented by Neworld Theatre, Main Street Theatre and Urban Crawl, Inside/Out is a very candid memoir of a little more than a decade in Keating’s life. A “shy little boy,” according to his teachers, by the age of 12 he had used “grass, hash and acid” and was soon addicted to heroin. By 16, he was picked up by the cops for possession of stolen property — taking the rap for a friend who would have been tried as an adult. That was the beginning of Keating’s period of on-again/off-again imprisonment. Inside/Out is not a “poor me” piece of theatre nor does it glamourize prison life.
Everything that happened to him, Keating tells us, was a result of choices he made, some really regrettable, including a remark he made to the judge who was about to sentence him. The offer on the table was incarceration or rehabilitation. “I don’t need rehab,” said Keating too quickly. Slam.
Keating has come out of this particular closet, supported by friends, fellow theatre artists and UBC’s Stephen Malloy, who dramaturged and directed Inside/Out. In his program notes, Keating particularly acknowledges “the Main Street boys” (Main Street Theatre company) who said if he wrote it, they’d fundraise and produce it. That was the deal and they kept it.
A solo show on a simple set by Barbara Clayden with minimal but effective lighting by Itai Erdal, Inside/Out has an inclusive, friendly, “between us” feel about it; we could be sitting in a pub with him. Despite how open he makes himself on stage in this tiny, funky venue, he remains, at 60, a somewhat shy man with a wry sense of humour. Raised in Quebec, he retains the speech rhythms of an anglophone raised in La Belle Province; the final “g” is consistently dropped and there’s something akin to an Irish lilt there as well. He’s very listenable over the 80-minute, uninterrupted running time.
Peppering his work with self-deprecating humour, Keating makes completely comprehensible the lure of being “inside.” There is “a simplicity,” he says, in prison. Emotions — with the exception of anger — are kept completely under wraps. Of the outside, he says, “F***, it wears you down when people treat you like a regular person.” And ironically, when he was released several times over the years, no one remembered him or was waiting for him. When he got picked up again, he was royally welcomed back by all the cons. These were his people and they were his community.
Keating has another community now and he’s made a new life in the theatre. If there’s a message here — and it’s not hammered home, quite the contrary — it’s that we are responsible for the choices we make. Writing and performing Inside/Out is one of the best choices Keating ever made.
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Inside/Out runs until April 12 at Little Mountain Gallery. Tickets at the door (cash only), brownpapertickets.com or by calling 1-800-838-3006.