—Patrick Costello, Todd Thomson, Pippa Mackie, and Andrew Wheeler in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Gordon. Photo by David Cooper.
The fact that Gordon is Morris Panych’s eighth play to be staged by the Arts Club speaks volumes about why the Playhouse closed its doors for good this week while the Arts Club thrives in three Vancouver venues.
Although certainly not the primary reason for its sad demise, the Playhouse was somehow never able to connect to local artists and the community the way the Arts Club has nor to engender Arts Club-style loyalties in artists and audiences. Occupying the same middle-of-the-road artistic turf, the two companies competed for the same bums in their seats. As Arts Club seats filled, the Playhouse emptied.
So when Panych, now located in Toronto, brings his very dark, very funny new play out here, it’s the Arts Club’s good fortune to offer its west coast premiere. Rougher, bloodier and nastier than the usual Arts Club fare, Gordon represents a turn for Panych into Sam Shepard and David Mamet territory, with a twist of George F. Walker for good Canadian measure.
Gordon (Todd Thomson) is a homicidal criminal just out of jail, on a violent crime spree with his hapless young cellmate Carl (Patrick Costello) and his brutalized girlfriend Deirdre (Pippa Mackie). They hole up in the run-down house in Hamilton (the play is rife with Ontario jokes) where Gordon grew up and where his father, Gord (Andrew Wheeler), still lives.
Gordon Sr. is a hopeless drunk, though eloquent even when semi-conscious and hallucinating. He speaks eloquently of the younger Gordon nasty, brutish childhood (“Who wouldn’t be an arsonist growing up on this street?”), torturing animals, maybe killing his mother, and of his own drunken, violent rages with little Gord curled up in terror on the floor. Like father like son?
Maybe, but dad soon tires of the meth lab in his kitchen and the bodies in the basement, and becomes protective of pouty Deirdre. When an irresistible Gordon meets an immovable Gordon, something’s gotta give.
Directing a tight production on Ken MacDonald’s grotty set, Panych has cast his play expertly. Thomson’s Gordon is a scary psychopath with a measured cadence and big vocabulary that echo his father’s. Thomson has mastered the comic slow burn in Gordon’s exasperation with dim-witted, manic Carl, played deliciously by Costello with his toque pulled down over his head as if trying to disappear in it.
Mackie’s Deirdre shows just the right combination of surliness and vulnerability. And as the apparently toothless tiger who sired the vicious cub, Wheeler turns in a masterful performance of comic horror. He’s one of our consistently best and most underrated actors.
The Playhouse is gone. Long live the Arts Club.