january 2018 | Volume 163
Photo credit: Inside/Out starring Patrick Keating. Photo by Stephen Malloy
by Patrick Keating
Neworld Theatre with Touchstone Theatre
PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
More like a Fringe show than a typical PuSh performance, Inside/Out is nevertheless a powerful, mesmerizing evening of personal storytelling. On a bare stage with just one chair, a few lighting changes and a single significant sound effect—the sound of a prison door slamming shut—Patrick Keating talks about the ten years, on and off, but mostly on, that he spent in many different prisons in Quebec and BC.
A local actor whom we’ve seen over the past decade primarily in shows with Main Street Theatre, Keating tells his story chronologically with a sly matter-of-factness, rarely intensifying and never sensationalizing his experiences in the criminal world and prison system. He doesn’t seem bitter and always emphasizes his own responsibility—“my choices”—for the way his life unfolded.
Growing up in a lower middle-class Irish-Catholic Montreal family, he was a school dropout, involved with drugs, gangs and guns by the time he was 13. His longer jail sentences were for armed robbery. But he insists, “I am not a tough guy,” and hardly any of the anecdotes he shares with us involve violence.
Keating gives us a guided tour of the inside, the interior architecture, bureaucratic and social structures of prison life. He talks a lot about the need to stay alert and the friendships and loyalties he developed inside, the necessary commitments to individuals and groups that kept him relatively safe but that he had to back up, too, when push came to shove—or shiv. Some of his anecdotes are amusing, one or two relatively chilling. But his story is less about conflict than it is about adaptation.
With no education or skills and a drug habit, Keating would come out of prison, immediately get into trouble, and find himself back inside. He developed a comfort level with the rules and structures of medium security prisons; the laxness of minimum security institutions made him crazy. One day he realized that the dynamic of brief freedom followed by lengthy imprisonment had become his life. He doesn’t make clear whether that was the exact catalyst, but soon after, he began going to school inside and took a theatre class offered through the University of Victoria. Accustomed to committing, he deferred his release for five weeks in order to finish the run of the show the teacher cast him in.
There’s a simple eloquence to Keating’s performance, unfussily directed by Stephen Malloy, artistic director of Main Street Theatre, which premiered the show last year. If you’ve never been in prison, the experience is quietly eye-opening. If you have, I suspect you’d find Keating’s story entertainingly, maybe horribly, familiar. Inside/Out runs evenings (with a 7 pm curtain) only to Saturday with a 2 pm Sunday matinee, each performance followed with a talkback hosted by the Pivot Legal Society and Prisoners’ Legal Services.
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