Optimistically Cautious

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Workshop West: "The Mighty Carlins"

The return of Workshop West from financial oblivion was much heralded in the media, and I am certain the title of their current series, "True Grit", is as much a reference to the company's resurrection as to the content of their productions.

Piqued by the choice of Mill Woods as the setting of The Mighty Carlins, I asked Mack to join me for a pay-what-you-can showing on Tuesday night. From the website:

"On the anniversary of his wife's death, Leo Carlin and his two adult sons come together for their traditional night of drinking until they can't stand, reminiscing until they can't remember, and accusing each other of horrible things until they are bonded together as a family once again."

Walking out of this play, Mack immediately commented on the amount of yelling that had taken place, while I was glad to be out of a space surging with testosterone - the three men were relentless in their display of aggression, one-upsmanship, and macho behavior. It was clear that Carlins is not for the faint of heart - between the language, the drinking, and continuous references to sex, this wasn't a play for everyone. That said, such a framework couldn't be avoided; this was the reality of relating to each other for these men. An undertone of blame and guilt was a subtext of the entire play - with Leo's son Mike in particular questioning his father's role in his wife's death. The resolution, albeit tinged with a sad truth, was all too brief given the build-up towards the confrontation.

What small misgivings I had about the script were more than made up for by the stellar performances, however. Veteran John Wright as the snarky father was a presence and force to be reckoned with throughout: stalwart, stubborn and feisty. James Hamilton (who reminded me very much of Chris Fassbender in this role) was fantastically vulnerable and pathetically spineless, and displayed to a T all of the internalized mannerisms by the bullied, picked-on member of the family.

While set in Mill Woods, this could have taken place in any suburb in any major city, with the reference to the "hour long bus ride" and numerous drive-by shootings seeming more like a gimmick than anything else. And oh the drinking - Mack and I wondered how the men were able to avoid running to the bathroom after opening and "consuming" at least fifty cans of beer over the course of the show.

This was my first Workshop West show, so if The Mighty Carlins is any indication of the content they gravitate towards, its productions are a departure for my admittedly narrow theatre experiments. Of course, I will still keep my eye on their schedule, and at the very least, offer them the congratulations they deserve for giving up-and-coming playwrights a platform for expression.

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