Pacific Theatre kicks off its 2016-2017 season with the world premiere of dark and dirty A Good Way Out. Written by Cara Norrish, it’s a family story but a family with a real difference.
Think Hell’s Angels or Red Scorpions. That kind of family.
Gritty with foul language, sex and violence — not the usual fare at Christian-based Pacific Theatre — it’s a play with a very strong message: if you get involved with the bad guys, chances are pretty good you’ll end up dead. Even if you’re a small player just dealing a little weed, you’ll soon be in over your head and so will all those you love.
Andrew Wheeler, in leather jacket, chains and bandana, is gang leader Larry, who decides who gets paid, how much and when. The front for his drug dealing is a motorcycle repair shop where, in a seemingly benevolent act, he employs Joey (Carl Kennedy). Joey and his girlfriend Carla (Evelyn Chew) rent their scuzzy digs from Larry’s mother-in-law, and when she raises the rent — almost certainly upon a directive from Larry — Joey and Carla are in trouble. They risk losing their two kids to Family Services (although since they both refer to spending time with the kids as being “stuck with the kids,” you have to wonder what kind of parents they are). Larry’s tentacles are everywhere and that includes sex-in-exchange-for-rent with Carla, an ex-stripper and former prostitute.
Also involved in this sordid mess is not-too-sharp Sean (Chad Ellis) and Joey’s sister Lynette (Corina Akeson), a Christian who has survived their dysfunctional family and is desperate to get Joey out of gang life. But Larry knows where everyone lives, he knows the names of their children, he knows which kid takes dance lessons and when, he knows everyone he will hurt in order to keep Joey, Carla and Sean in line. It’s absolutely chilling.
We all know or strongly suspect the kind of control guys like Larry have over their “family” and the vulnerability of those whose real families have left them rudderless. But under Anthony F. Ingram’s direction, playwright Norrish’s play is so in your face and the performances so authentic, you feel like going home and scrubbing yourself to get the grime off.
Wheeler, who has played everything from Stephen Harper in PROUD, to Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Story and Prime Minister Angus McLintock in the Best Laid Plans, makes your skin crawl in this role. He talks so slowly and in a voice that seems to come from so deep in the gut that menace builds in every line. The scene with unbelievably brave Chew when her character Carla is coerced by Larry into having sex with him is ugly but so horrifyingly real. Carla’s weary acquiescence — “Fine” — sounds like life leaking out of her.
Ellis’s role as Sean is not huge but vital; without Sean’s persuasion — a kind of adolescent mindlessness — Joey might not have got sucked into the mess he gets into. Akeson has a tough role as Joey’s sister who hopes to bring her brother back into the Christian fold. It’s a nicely nuanced performance that steers clear of preachiness although it could easily go that way.
Kennedy’s Joey is so honest and real you just weep for him. Kennedy is charismatic and he breathes that quality into his character. But Joey is at the end of his rope and ready to do anything to get his life back.
Terrific performances every one and a haunting production of an unsettling new play.
Developed by Pacific Theatre, A Good Way Out doesn’t show us or Joey a good way out but it definitely illustrates how one dysfunctional family leads the desperate and vulnerable to seek refuge in another, even more destructive one.
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