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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Off The Wall Theatre presents "Trainspotting" through Nov. 4.

Off The Wall explores the drug underworld of "Trainspotting"


It's almost impossible to sit through the two hours of "Trainspotting" without scratching your arms to get rid of the dirty rash that you are sure must be growing on you.

The play, which opened Thursday night at Off The Wall Theatre, is so dirty, so obscene, so dark, so ... there may not be a word for it ... that instead of serving soda in the lobby they should have giant bottles of hand sanitizer.

Having said that, and having taken a long, hot shower, it should be noted that there is a real play here, full of despair, love, joy and sorrow and a glimpse at a world none of wants to visit, much less actually spend any time in.

The story – based on the 1993 Irvine Welsh novel subsequently adapted for the silver screen by director Danny Boyle – is about heroin addicts in Scotland. But there really isn't any story here.

What we have is a series of episodes with four characters telling us about all the horrible things they do to feed their disgusting habit. There is no body part left unmentioned, no sexual act that escapes description and no vile act that is too much to endure. The shock level is incredible.

The central figure in this adventure is Mark Renton, played valiantly by Luke Walaszek. It is a giant of a part calling for incredible emotional range, strict discipline in relationships and the ability to be a foil for the other actors.

The scene when he describes rummaging around a dirty public toilet for an opium suppository is as graphic and moving as anything you will see.

He is joined by Sick Boy, played by Krutis Witzlsteiner; Franco Begbie, played by Jim Donaldson; and three women, all played by Jocelyn Ridgley. These four actors are both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of this production.

The story is set in Scotland, and the decision was made somewhere along the line to have the Milwaukee actors use Scottish accents.

A good rule to follow is that if all the actors in the play can't all do an accent well, then let's just use plain old local variety English. That is clearly the case here. As dark as this play is, there is plenty of humor, but most of it escaped unnoticed because of the difficulty of listening to the actors.

A Scottish accent is tough to understand when Scotsmen talk. When Americans butcher it with obviously phony accents it detracts severely from the play.

The other thing that is bothersome about this production, and this is probably best blamed on director Jeremy C. Welter, is the pace.

Heroin makes you blissfully sleepy and lethargic. It's as if what little energy you had has slipped into a waste bin somewhere. Welter gives his actors moments of a kind of slumber but then charges them with frenetic anger or silliness, and those moments don't ring true. In this case, a "less is more" philosophy would have been well served.

But for those couple of minor misses, this play is a production well worth sitting through. You need a strong stomach. But, the brazen fierceness coupled with the lustful appetite for heroin is really something to see.

Once again Dale Gutzman, the artistic director, has shown that by reaching out for plays that take courage to mount, you can end up with a success on your hands.

At one point in this play, Walazek says, "Managing a junkie's habit is the ultimate challenge."

He's wrong. Sitting through this play unscathed by what you see is a much more difficult challenge. But, certainly a worthy one to undertake.


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