by Raul Sanchez Inglis
Beaumont Playhouse, 316 W. 5th Av.
November 16-December 3
Four cops in a ratty room, gathering evidence for a drug bust. Scoping out a bad guy, the “tag.” Three of them are veterans: cynical and obscene, barely suppressing their anger at the world and their own lives. The “new guy” watches and learns, and takes their casual abuse.
We won’t be surprised when their rage explodes into violence. As one of the cops says, “Show me any modern American male who isn’t fucking losing control!”
Surveillance is playwright/director Raul Sanchez Inglis’ latest foray into the dark side of American male culture, a favourite subject of playwrights from Arthur Miller to David Mamet. Having tackled the vicious sleaze of Hollywood (In the Eyes of God), and the American (in)justice system experienced by an inmate on Death Row(Walter), Inglis now casts his eye along the thin blue line.
Like Mamet, Inglis likes his characters clipped and hard-boiled. Where better to find those qualities than copland, as we know from so many movies and TV shows. The trick is to transcend the clichés of the genre, and for the most part he succeeds, sometimes spectacularly. His muscular dialogue, sharp direction and excellent casting re-invigorate familiar stereotypes.
Here’s a typical rapid-fire exchange:
Cop 1: You guys ever had wild sex?
Cop 2: I invented wild sex.
Cop 3: Yeah, with himself.
Dave Collette is terrific as the ingenuous new guy, nicknamed Screwsey for his off-the-wall take on things. In some ways this is his story, the young cop’s initiation into the dark world the others seem to have discovered after enough years on the job. Collette beautifully understates his performance, whether telling a goofy story about seeing Bigfoot or listening to the existential moaning of the older, married cop, Morley (Gardiner Millar): “The world is a come-stain in the solar system. Life is punishment.”
Morley has to deal with rumours about his wife’s infidelity, a direct challenge to his manhood in a culture where sexism, along with homophobia, is woven into the fabric of everyday life and language. Millar does a fine job with a character that Inglis tends to push a little too far into melodrama.
The other two, Lou (Ben Ayres) and Trusk (Jerry Rector), have a tense relationship, the more aggressive Trusk bullying Lou, who sublimates his resentment until it explodes. Both Ayres and Rector do great work with their profanity-laced dialogue, although Rector’s ever-furious Trusk yells too much. But what can you expect from a character who says, “All I got left is my fucking anger and my fucking hatred and I’m keeping them until I die!”
For added effect, the strong acting and powerful material are right in your face in the intimate confines of the Beaumont Studio theatre. And Inglis provides plenty of comedy to relieve the bleakness.
This is definitely a playwright with a bullet. I look for great things from him.