Trailer trash noir truly an immersive experience

Audiences are inches away from the action in Killer Joe

Itsazoo Productions presents Killer Joe, by Tracy Letts, April 15 to May 4 at the Italian Cultural Centre, 3075 Slocan St., Vancouver. Tickets: $20/$25 at itsazoo.org.

Itsazoo Productions is known for creating unorthodox theatre fare and the Vancouver-based company’s latest offering, Killer Joe, is no exception.

The first clue that Killer Joe is no ordinary play is the venue — it’s being staged in the parking lot next to the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver. The creative team has transformed the swath of concrete into a miniature trailer park, complete with one 60-by-12-foot trailer — where most of the theatrical action takes place — two smaller trailers, Astroturf, a smattering of pink flamingos and strewn beer cans.

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The whole theatre experience promises to be “truly immersive” for the audience, says director Chelsea Haberlin.
“For me, theatre is most intriguing when you feel like you are a part of it and I think that through site-specific theatre you can create that full immersion.”

Haberlin, the general manager and co-artistic director at Itsazoo (and also a former North Vancouver resident), explains that site-specific theatre is Itsazoo’s specialty. The company has previously staged shows in movie theatres, museums, public parks and even in the water below a bridge.

Killer Joe is the second production in Itsazoo’s premiere series, which presents site-specific versions of debut works by renowned playwrights. Originally written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts in 1991, the American gothic crime thriller was first produced as a play in 1993. Letts later adapted a screenplay for the 2011 film of the same name starring Matthew McConaughey. Killer Joe tells the sordid story of the Smiths, a dysfunctional Texas family who contract a killer in a scheme to collect life insurance.

“It’s a really great script. The characters are incredibly intriguing and it’s a real page-turner. You always wonder what’s going to happen next,” Haberlin says.
In this production, the titular killer is played by Colby Wilson, a co-artistic director at Itsazoo who also hails from North Vancouver. “We went to rival high schools,” Haberlin laughs.

With violence, nudity, coarse language, smoke and simulated sex, Killer Joe is more likely to appeal to HBO fans than families. It’s billed as “trailer trash noir” and a “pitch-black” comedy — but a comedy nonetheless.

“The dialogue is so witty and so honest, so the characters themselves, the things they say, are quite humorous,” Haberlin says.

The situations the characters get themselves into are so terrible it’s funny, she adds.
“You think, ‘Oh no, it couldn’t get any worse,’ and then it does and then you have to laugh because there’s no other way through it.”

With an audience capacity of just 37 people, ticket-holders will be treated to a “fly-on-the-wall” theatre experience. “They’re within inches of the action the whole time,” Haberlin says.
And before and after the performance, audience members are invited to grab a cup of moonshine at the Southern-inspired concession stand and explore the replica trailer park.

“They can arrive a half-an-hour before the show and get a hot dog and get a cocktail or a beer and wander around and just experience the environment,” says Haberlin, adding that, yes, people are allowed to drink in their seats.

“I hope that they have a lot of fun, primarily, because it is so engaging, because it is so funny,” she says. “In my ideal world, whenever someone sees one of Itsazoo’s plays, if they leave saying, ‘I didn’t know theatre could be that,’ it would be awesome for me. We try to create theatre that isn’t just plays, but theatre that creates a full event for people.”

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