Theatre review: Gordon scared the hell out of me

Excuse my French* but Gordon f#$king scared the hell out of me.

In Morris Panych’s black comedy and modern day retelling of the Prodigal Son, Gordon returns to the family home in a rundown part of Hamilton where the other houses in the neighbourhood have all but disappeared.  Like any good sociopath though Gordon doesn’t ring the front door bell, deciding instead to send his lackey Carl through the kitchen window.  With his pregnant girlfriend Deirdre in tow, Gordon has his eye on the crumbling steel town homestead as the base for his criminal operations.  Only problem is, dear old dad stands in his way.

Much of the success for Gordon comes from the abilities of its actors and having playwright as director has definitely helped, with Panych assembling a stellar cast.

In the title role, Todd Thomson is the perfect sociopath, lacking any redeeming qualities as he abuses his girlfriend and plots to remove his namesake from the equation.  At times his piercing stare was enough to send shivers as we held our breath waiting to find out what nastiness was next.  Thomson takes full advantage of his good looks to disarm and pull us in and even as Gordon finds the tables turned, the evil that permeates through him is never far from the surface.

Andrew Wheeler gives a tremendous performance as the alcoholic father who uses the dream of moving to Arizona as a metaphor for taking his own life.  His first appearance after a night of binge drinking was inspired and some of the best work as a drunk I have seen in a very long time.  During the rapid descent into the realization that his son hasn’t changed, we feel Wheeler’s conflict in the justification and responsibility he feels to correct his mistake.

As his lackey, Patrick Costello gives his Carl a tweaked out nervousness that goes well beyond his irritable bowel.  Surprisingly he managed an innocence amongst all the carnage that suggested, unlike Gordon, that had life not pulled him to the dark side he would have perhaps turned out to be a functioning member of society.  Pippa Mackie gives Gordon’s abused girlfriend Deirdre a surprisingly fresh twist to her performance with just the right amount of vacancy behind her eyes to help her deal with the madness.

Patrick Costello, Todd Thomson, Pippa Mackie, and Andrew Wheeler in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Gordon. Photo by David Cooper.
The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Morris Panych’s Gordon. Photo by David Cooper.

Longtime collaborator Ken MacDonald has created a spectacularly gritty home that seems to mimic its inhabitants at every turn and Alan Brodie manages to light everything in unexpectedly beautiful tones.  No make-up artist is credited but I was struck by the emphasis on the eyes of each of the characters proving they really are windows into the soul.

With Gordon, playwright Morris Panych once again proves his status as a leader in Canadian theatre and while it scared the hell out of me, it did so with immense skill and not a few laughs.

*Before anyone starts leaving comments about the inappropriate use of this phrase please note this is a quote from the show and is used for effect only.

4 1/2 of 5 Stars Gordon

Written and directed by Morris Panych.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Granville Island Revue Stage through March, 24, 2012.  Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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