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Photograph: Cameron JohnsonTrainspotting USA at Book and Lyrics Theatricals

Trainspotting USA at Book and Lyrics Theatricals | Theater review

A transfer of Irvine Welsh’s junkie philosophers from Scotland to the heartland is intriguing if not wholly successful.


Scottish-born novelist Irvine Welsh rose to prominence on the strength of his 1993 novel, Trainspotting, a visceral portrait of aimless young Edinburgh residents shooting up and wasting time. Now a Chicagoan, Welsh worked with theater director Tom Mullen to reset his tale in the Midwest U.S. (The pair worked from a previous stage adaptation by playwright Harry Gibson.) Mullen’s new production is set in and around Kansas City, but it opens with a sequence set to the Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger”—perhaps meant as a cheeky bridge between Scotland and Chicago, as the Glasgow band’s tune has become the Blackhawks’ theme song.

Mullen’s relocation of these junkie philosophers to the Plains States and the present day works well enough, even if meth might seem a more intuitive drug of choice for Missourians than heroin. The director makes a convincing case that a landscape of dead-end jobs at big-box stores could leave an American Renton, Spud and Sick Boy with outlooks just as bleak as those of their Scottish counterparts. The six-person ensemble has a number of fine moments, with special praise due to Jenny Lamb’s portrayals of all the female characters. And Mullen’s episodic staging makes clever use of the turntable in Dan Conley’s set. What doesn’t quite work is the play’s overreliance on narration. Shane Kenyon’s Renton, an appealing anchor, regularly addresses us directly from the stage, which is fine. But he also speaks to us in recorded voiceover, which feels like a theatrically weak imitation of Danny Boyle’s film.

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