Trainspotting USA opens at Theater Wit
A stage adaptation of the iconic book and movie moves the action from Scotland to Kansas City.
“We’re gonna do something tonight that probably most theater professionals would say, ‘Can’t do it,’ ” director Tom Mullen tells his cast one evening in early September. The six young actors, recognizable faces in Chicago’s storefront theater scene, are gathered around a table in a Skokie rehearsal space, where Mullen has been showing them renderings of a set design.
“We’re going to try to stage Spud’s ‘accident’ in real time,” he continues, to an eruption of laughs from the cast. “I had a four-and-a-half-hour designer meeting last night where we talked about spraying shit onstage. There’s something truly iconic about this moment where I feel like if we don’t try it, Trainspotting fans will be like, ‘They just didn’t go for it.’ ”
Yes, Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel about heroin addicts in Edinburgh, made into a memorable 1996 film by Danny Boyle. Soon, Mullen (the director of Bailiwick Chicago’s recent Fucking Men and Departure Lounge as well as the Off Broadway musical Tomorrow Morning) has actors Cameron Johnson, Jenny Lamb and Thad Anzur on their feet. They stumble through possible ways of staging the sequence in which luckless Spud wakes up after a night of carousing to find he’s shat his girlfriend’s bed and, in trying to remove the evidence, ends up…let’s just say ruining breakfast.
There’s no guarantee this scene will make it into the final version of the new adaptation, beginning previews Saturday 13 at Theater Wit in an independent commercial production bankrolled by Mullen and a handful of investors. As of tonight’s workshop, six weeks out, the script is still very much in flux.
Yet the most surprising thing about watching the scene unfold isn’t the prospect of simulated projectile feces, nor even the idea of Trainspotting onstage at all, considering the film’s indelible, wholly unstageable scenes of withdrawal-induced hallucinations and whimsical squalor. It’s that the actors are reading their lines with Midwestern American accents.
Mullen, with Welsh’s blessing (and help), is transporting the novelist’s harrowing, heroin-fueled heist tale from Edinburgh to Kansas City, Missouri. Welcome to Trainspotting USA.