This is Jerry's review of the original Green Thumb production from 2004.
Rage is one of the most disturbing plays I’ve seen in a long time, and I mean that mostly in a good way. After the dreary comic artifice of her Sexy Laundry—a middle-aged couple working out their marital problems in a hotel room—playwright Michelle Riml puts a violence-prone teenager in a small office with his female high school guidance counselor. Their problems are far more serious and much less easily resolved. A couple of sensational performances and a provocative script make this a definite winner.
Raymond, who insists on being called Rage (because “I go off sometimes”), is about to be expelled for giving a frightening oral report in history class where he role-played Hitler screaming anti-Semitic obscenities. Laura, the counselor, a self-professed pacifist who decorates her office walls with pictures of Gandhi, is intensely reasonable. She explains the school’s zero-tolerance policy on violence, expounds her own values (“peace is what’s going to change things”), and offers Rage a chance to justify himself. An intelligent, articulate kid, he defends himself very effectively, challenging Laura’s professional double standard—“you want me to talk but if I say something wrong I get kicked out of school”—and her naïve, theoretical personal idealism.
Then midway through this 70-minute one-act Rage pulls a gun, forcing Laura to put her pacifist ideals to a real-life test. Is he just a psycho-kid or is there a method to his madness? The rest of the play alternates between his terrorizing her and her attempting to escape or talk him down. In the process she unearths some of the sources of his rage—his being bullied and called fag, his problems at home with passive-aggressive parents. The psychologizing sounds familiar if you’ve seen Equus, but the standoff is emotionally harrowing and genuinely scary.
Leslie Jones and David Beazely really deliver the goods in this impeccable Green Thumb production. A comic genius, Jones too rarely gets to play dramatic roles. She’s absolutely convincing here as a character forced to defend her intellectual convictions and tap into her deepest emotional resources at the same time. Her rage, when it comes, is stunning. Beazely, maybe a little too fit and good-looking to be the ultimate high school loser, is equally credible as frustrated smart kid and dangerous paranoid. Patrick McDonald directs with keen attention to naturalistic detail—the physical violence, with the Cultch audience only a few feet away, seems completely real—and he keeps the tension tightly wound. As he’s done in the past with George Walker’s Tough and Problem Child, McDonald successfully stretches Green Thumb’s mandate across the divide between Theatre for Young Audiences and theatre for everyone.
Though Rage is definitely thought provoking and viscerally powerful, it left me with mixed feelings. I thought about the recent production of The Monument, where someone holds someone else captive and bullies them into reconsidering their values and behaviour, and how much more credibly Rage enacts that scenario. But then I realized how derivative it is in its echoes of Equus and Mamet’s Oleanna, which Rage quotes theatrically and thematically at the beginning and end. (Jo Ledingham, in her Courier review, notes the irony of Leslie Jones’ having played the student role in the recent Playhouse Oleanna.) I wonder about Riml’s decision to focus dramatically on Laura’s convictions rather than trying to get at the heart of Raymond’s more deeply compelling situation. And I question the ending of Rage, which I won’t give away but which seems theatrically gratuitous and unhelpful in unpacking the serious issues the play confronts. Obviously, Rage got me thinking and feeling and treated me to some of the best acting of the season, so maybe I’ll just shut up and recommend it!