Trainspotting USA is an odd duck. Written and directed by Tom Mullen, it is adapted from the play by Harry Gibson, which is in turn adapted from Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel of heroin addiction and youthful alienation set in late 80’s Scotland.
Mullen transplants the action from Scotland to the contemporary American Midwest, around Kansas City, Missouri. The purpose of this transplantation is elusive. One could draw a subtle parallel between our post-industrial devastation and that of the Thatcher era, but it never really comes off in this production.
Like the novel and the famous 1996 film adaptation, Trainspotting USA is essentially episodic, a series of darkly comic (and eventually just dark) vignettes centered around intelligent but unambitious junkie Mark Renton (Shane Kenyon) and his circle of friends.
Mullen’s version sticks pretty close to the source material, which is fairly brilliant, so the show manages to be absorbing despite numerous problems. The biggest deviations from the text are annoying modernizations and Americanizations. The original line “I hate being Scottish. Some people hate the English. I don’t…” becomes “I hate being Missourian. Some people hate New Yorkers. I don’t…”
Kenyon’s performance is entirely too laid back and likable for what should be a sneering punk nihilist of a character. Actors Jenny Lamb and Thad Anzur are given entirely too many major roles to play, which is confusing and shatters the necessary illusion of theatre. The show’s energy is low and the pacing drags, making a 90 minute show seem much longer.
The tone of the show is also off, what should be black comedy much of the time comes off as a low stakes lark. When Renton inevitably descends into the living hell of withdrawal, it should be a fully realized nightmare, but Mullen’s staging crosses the fine line into typical anti-drug PSA territory.
The original dialogue and characterizations are so sharp it should be easy to like this show, but the misguided direction makes it hard.