There was an inner dialogue that ping-ponged in my head as I watched the ITSAZOO production of Mojo last night, going back and forth between “wow these actors are f*cking amazing” to “what did he say?”. Despite the thick accents necessary in this production that left me behind at times though, I’d do it all over again just for the shear brilliance of this cast’s performances.
A departure from the company’s usual politically charged original scripts from playwright-in-resident Sebastien Archibald, here the company takes on Jez Butterworth’s 1995 Olivier Award winning black comedy.
Set in the Atlantic club of 1958 Soho, the story revolves around a group of small-time hoods who help run the place. With the disappearance of Silver Johnny, the club’s young singing heartthrob, and the grisly discovery that the club’s owner Ezra has been cut in half, paranoia and fear take over as the remaining employees, and the dead owner’s psychotic son, can’t decide whether to fight or flee.
Director Chelsea Haberlin pulls some spine chilling performances from her cast. Leading the charge in a quintet of fine performances are Sebastien Archibald and Colby Wilson as Sweets and Potts, the two low-wrung bar employees who had been hatching their own plans for Silver Johnny. Never standing still, the two are as strung out on their little white pills as any tweaker in the Downtown Eastside. With an almost ballet quality to their movements, the two spar like agile boxers. Particularly good here is Wilson who moves his character effortlessly from bold conspirator to whinging tosser at the drop of a hat.
Brett Harris brings a chill to the air each time he enters the room as the psychotic and forgotten son of the now dead club owner. The fear he generates among the other characters is palpable but when he finally goes over the deepest end, it is simply an act of inevitability.
Chris Cook and Mike Klemak round out the main cast with effortless performances as the hapless Skinny and Mickey, the de facto boss following Ezra’s demise. Cook manages a particularly frenetic pace which is wonderfully contrasted with Klemak’s outward bravado.
There is a sixth member of this all-male cast as Matt Reznek makes a late appearance as Silver Johnny. Reznek has a tough go though, not having the benefit of feeding off the energy from his fellow cast members in the preceding hour and half.
There is a sexual charge in the air that is never quite realized but adds to the smarmy atmosphere created by director Haberlin. Immersing us inside the world of the nightclub, we were at times uncomfortable and claustrophobic; at one point I was as anxious to escape the smoke-filled and stale basement of the Russian Hall as these characters were to escape their own sad lives.
The discussion at intermission was the trajectory that ITSAZOO finds itself with this production. As Haberlin completes her MFA in directing and with the undeniable strength of her collaborators Archibald and Wilson, this company is destined for big things. A lot will come down to the choices they make in the years to come but for now, one thing is for sure, The Electric Company will be watching over their shoulders.
By Jez Butterworth. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. An ITSAZOO Productions presentation. On stage at the Russian Hall through August 25, 2012. Visit http://www.itsazoo.org for tickets and information.