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Photo by Damon Calderwood. Pictured: Chad Ellis and Carl Kennedy.
Pacific Theatre has very bravely programmed three new plays, premieres by local writers, as their first three shows of 2016-17. With their season opener, Cara Norrish’s A Good Way Out, the company goes over to the dark side. Not that the play completely avoids Pacific’s mandate of “producing theatre that rigorously explores the spiritual aspects of human experience,” but its theme of Christian forgiveness and repentance gets short shrift in this lower depths story of lost souls and desperate gambles.
The central character, Joey (a very good Carl Kennedy), is a troubled young man trying hard to keep his life on track. He’s done bad things and spent time in prison but is now in a relatively stable relationship with Carla (Evelyn Chew), a former exotic dancer. They profess to be devoted parents to their two young children but social services is sniffing around and they’re afraid they might lose the kids. Plus they’ve just gotten an eviction notice. Joey hasn’t been able to pay the rent because the vicious biker king/drug lord he works for, Larry (the amazing Andrew Wheeler), keeps failing to pay him.
Larry was once married to Joey’s sister, Lynette (Corina Akeson), a devout Christian who has now remarried into wealth. Larry professes to be taking care of Joey because they’re “family,” employing him as a motorcycle mechanic rather than having him deal drugs. But Larry actually treats Joey like a captive or a serf. When Joey gets desperate for money and both Larry and Lynette turn down his pleas, he reluctantly joins the feckless Sean (Chad Ellis) in a drug deal that involves ripping off Larry. That this won’t end well seems preordained.
Other than Larry, none of the characters has any real control of their life. Carla does what she can but it’s not nearly enough. Sean is a walking disaster. Lynette admits that her marriage is a failure, and even she seems unconvinced by her half-hearted offers of spiritual assistance to Joey.
But Larry, oh my. Norrish has written him as a conscienceless sadist—he’ll happily kill your kids if you cross him—and Wheeler makes him the scariest dude in town. No, in Canada. Wheeler has never looked so big, brawny and dangerous. In full biker garb (kudos to costume designer Julie White) he intimidates just by showing up. He stalks the tiny stage at half-speed, speaking slowly in a gruff voice that sounds like he’s swallowed razor blades, in full control at almost every moment.
Norrish has written some powerful scenes but also too much exposition. She lays on Larry’s “family” theme a little too thickly and doesn’t leave enough room in these flawed characters for much audience sympathy or leavening humour. Director Anthony F. Ingram might do more to help lighten the gloom. He could also have his actors yell a little less.