Theatre review by GRAHAM HICKS, hicksbiz.com
April 25 to May 15, 2016,
The Roxy on Gateway,
8529 Gateway Blvd.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
8 p.m. dark Mondays
running time, including intermission, 2 hours, 15 minutes
The very best part of Gordon, playing at Theatre Network’s temporary home on Gateway Boulevard through May 15, is the absence of sugar-coating.
Playwrights usually emerge from that societal class that believes in nurture over nature, environment over jobs and mankind’s innate goodness. They tend to adapt a social worker stance when dealing with societal under-bellies. To quote West Side Story: “He ain’t a criminal, he’s just misunderstood. We ain't no delinquents, we're misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good!”
In Gordon, playwright Morris Panych will have nothing to do with ‘this boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care!’ That’s why Gordon, in its unsettling way, is a dark comedy.
Panych doesn’t really care that the two protagonists, Gordon Senior (Brian Dooley) and Gordon Junior (Joe Perry), bring generations of screwed-up family history to their own screwed-up relationship. If anything, his play is about individuals refusing to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions, refusing to clean up their own acts.
Gordon Senior, when “reminiscing” about his son’s youth, chuckles about “how cute he (Gordon Junior) looked as a kid, cowering under the kitchen table, eyes wide-open, while mom and dad threw plates at each other.”
No, both Gordon Senior and Gordon Junior are bad asses, though Gordon Junior is definitely worst; a textbook psychopath (without moral conscience) if ever there was one.
And that’s what gives Gordon such meat. Panych wipes away any overt moral judgement on his characters, doesn’t overlay the situation with your usually liberal guilt sugar-coating. He just presents these people as they are.
That’s why Gordon is an unusual, quite refreshing, dark comedy. The humour comes from the audience thinking “how could he say that?” or “did I actually hear him say that?”
The plot’s an original as well. Gordon Junior chooses to reunite with his long-estranged, aging but still coping alcoholic father Gordon Senior. How does he reunite? By breaking into his dad’s house, surprising the heck out of Gordon Senior when he staggers home from the bar.
But Gordon Junior isn’t looking at conciliation to right wrongs from the past, to have completeness in his life, to complete the circle of caring and sharing.
Gordon Junior is a psychopath! His only motive is to have a roof over his head and a base from which to conduct his criminal operations, which include killing anybody who accidentally gets in the way.
Exceedingly well built by the playwright, Gordon comes alive (this is a pun: see the play) in the hands of director Bradley Moss and the show’s four actors.
Both Brian Dooley as Gordon Senior and Joe Perry as Gordon Junior are standouts. Both should be nominated in the local theatre community’s annual Sterling Award for best actor.
Dooley perfectly captures Gordon Senior – a retired factory worker and widower, drinking day and night – not to alleviate any guilt or pain, but because he has nothing better to do. To cap things off, he’s the teeniest bit senile, talking to his imaginary pal Lloyd about moving to Mesa, Arizona – but not showing any other signs of dementia.
Dooley’s Gordon is an overweight, t-shirt, white-trash kind of guy, in a permanent twilight zone – old in that the world has passed him by, but not old enough to be frail, still able to live on his own. It’s only after the show one realizes how challenging the role was, to maintain the right pace, cadence, inflection and tone to A) not let the play get bogged down, and B) keep the character fully believable.
Likewise, Joe Perry nails Gordon Junior, being the perfect psychopath on a high wire who manipulates and controls everyone around him. And Ben Stevens plays the dumb sidekick with a conscience tucked somewhere in the very back of his semi-functioning brains to full effect.
Patricia Cerra, as Gordon Junior’s abused girlfriend never quite gives her role as good a shake as her three male colleagues in this show. But the role itself isn’t as interesting - she’s a necessary foil to advance the plot and develop both the Gordon Junior and Senior characters.
Be aware that the first act of this quite long show (two hours excluding the intermission) can drag in places, as it’s a set-up for act two, when the sparks start to fly.
All in all, a most satisfying evening of hard-hitting theatre.