Wednesday 17 January 2018

Inside / Out is a poignant peek @ prison life
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Ask most British Columbians to single out a notorious bank robber with B.C. links and they'll come up with one or two names : "The Grey Fox" Bill Miner from a century back or more recently Victoria's "Stopwatch Gang" mastermind Stephen Reid, husband of Canadian poet Susan Musgrave. Add Patrick Keating to your list if you don't already have him there.

Keating's 80-minute autobiography Inside / Out is remounted this week for the 2018 PuSh Festival following a 3-year hiatus. His first acting class was a "clown class" taught by Richard Payne at Matsqui Prison in the 80's. From Payne's adaptation of Ubu Roi he got the bug that ultimately led to an acting degree from SFU. His first film, according to imdb, was a bit part in the movie ironically named "Robin's Hood". From there he jumped to the X Files series in '98, Smallville in '02 and a host of other t.v. series and films in the decades since.

Hard bench, hard wire, hard time for Patrick Keating as he faces the hard realities about his life as a convict in Canada's prison system in the 80's.
Photo credit Bronwyn Malloy, Main Street Theatre, 2015

His one-man show recounts his time behind bars now nearly 40 years back. The particular insight he brings is his epiphany. It happened at Leclerc prison in Laval, Quebec when a fellow recidivist named John challenged Keating when he whined how he was getting too old for jail-time. "Hey, man, this is what we do," John stated fatalistically in the holding cell, "in-&-out, back-&-forth -- life outside may be fun -- but this is what we do!" And that's when the epiphany started to light up. The idea that illuminates all existential thought : choice. Life. Is. Choice.

Simple stuff, Keating now realizes. We choose to rob banks. We choose to do drugs. We choose anger, laughter, tears. We choose to suppress those emotions Inside just to survive. What we cannot do is indulge ourselves with the belief \ excuse : "Why does this shit keep happening to me?" Whether Inside or Out, we choose.

What the show brings to the stage : Keating does his autobiographical monologue in a folksy style like he's chatting over coffee at Joe's Cafe on Commercial Drive. The style hi-lites the show's leitmotif : that con's are broken people who need help. If no posse exists Out, then the only cheering section will be from those still Inside when one gets busted again and is sent back. As happened repeatedly to him in those years when the brain's amygdala ruled his every waking moment.

Weed, hash, acid, speed, heroin -- he had done them all in Montreal even before he hit the often treacherous teen-age turf. Truant. Vagrant. Hustler. The next dozen years of his life were spent more Inside than Out as a result of chasing his drug demons. Offered rehab by a paternal judge, he sings out "No! No! No!" just like Amy Winehouse. And promptly gets four years instead. "I thought 'Hmmnnn, maybe I chose the wrong door!'" he now quips. Not long after release he is caught preparing to rob another bank to support his lifelong habits, this time gun-in-tow : now it's hard time, not just juvie jail.

Many dark moments would face Patrick Keating before he would see the light and choose an acting career by discovering poet Robert Frost's truth : the only way Out is Through.
Photo credit Neworld Theatre, 2015

Production values that shine through : Inside/Out is a solo conversation like a radio play. Thus its set, props and costume by Barbara Clayden are struck simply. A metal institutional chair. Denim. A Staples cardboard file box. A line of jail yard lamp posts. Jayleen Pratt's lighting offers up sciaroscuro effects befitting a con's life in the shadows. Haunting sound effects mostly of jail cell doors going "Slam!" by Noah Drew underscore the show's scant action.

Almost surprisingly, however, the Bill Withers classic "Lean on Me" wasn't grabbed. To this eye and ear its lyrics just about say it all : "You just call on me brother, when you need a hand / We all need somebody to lean on / I just might have a problem that you'll understand / We all need / Somebody to lean on…".

Still the fact it is Keating's words, nuances, and the quiet Anglo-Irish riffs learned in his youth north of Montreal's St. Laurent Blvd that carry the night.  [E.g. "that" is almost always "dat" while "ing" words such as "hoping" come out as "hopin'" instead.]

What to make of it all : Touchstone Theatre's promotional web materials say this : "Patrick's honest and engaging delivery of his funny, sad and stirring true story helps dismantle our ideas of what a 'criminal' looks like -- and helps us better understand how language, race and class play a very real part in our lives as Canadians." 

Translated that means despite "the ghosts or the enormity of the silent harshness" jail space and jail time bring, there can be comfort in the relative safety of predictability. At one point Keating's persona declares "You can keep the carrot, use the stick on me instead!"

To close the show Keating admits "I go back to the streets sometimes just to look, just to see if I recognize anyone I knew. I don't know, there's something...." 

It's almost -- but not quite -- a lamentation about those days of yore that are long-lost lit.-&-fig.  Gone, yes, but days that will play themselves out forever in his psyche.

Who gonna like : Do not expect a sermonette on the system and how it fails people. What Keating offers up instead is a kind of Catholic confessional. About a life of perpetual waiting. Waiting for the epiphany. About how waiting can become a prisoner's most sharply-honed skill.

Dr. William Glasser says our lives evince what he calls Total Behaviour. Its components are acting, thinking, feeling and physiology. He concludes "we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components...we can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think."

Patrick Keating's brave insights are summed up in the above principle of Glasser's. His final liberating choice of life as an actor is a remarkable feat. Lucky we are to be able to share with him his rapid-fire memory blitz of jail cell after jail cell. 

This is compelling, embracing, troubling, and touching theatre as up close and personal as it gets. 

Particulars : Presented by Touchstone Theatre with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Produced by Neworld Theatre Production in association with Main Street Theatre and Urban Crawl. On from January 17-21, 2018. At Performance Works, Granville Island, Wed-Sat 7pm, Sun 2pm. 
Post-show talkbacks after each performance hosted by Pivot Legal Society with Prisoners’ Legal Services.  Buy tickets.

Production team : Director, Dramaturg Stephen Malloy.  Sound Designer Noah Drew.  Lighting Designer Jayleen Pratt.   Set, Props, Costume Designer Barbara Clayden.  Stage Manager Sandy Cumberland. 
Writer & Performer :  Patrick Keating.


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