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High Life

High Life" is back for a second run with its original cast after emerging as the surprise hit of last summer's international du Maurier World Stage Festival in Toronto. A new Canadian play by first-time playwright and Stratford Festival actor Lee MacDougall, "High Life" has style and flair, and offers the performing talents of Tony award-winning Brent Carver ("Kiss of the Spider Woman"). Carver's involvement speaks volumes to the quality of this high-octane howler about four morphine addicts who plan (and foul up) the perfect bank heist in order to feed their habit. But Carver is not alone in his virtuoso turn as the likable, sniveling thief Donnie, whose body is shutting down from years of drug abuse. This is also a wonderful ensemble piece, impeccably delivered by the entire cast under the simple and clear-eyed direction of Jim Millan. Hilarious, violent, gritty and rich in scatological language, "High Life" is a direct descendant of the Quentin Tarantino generation and just as suspect in its embrace of the ugly. But what saves it from wallowing in a kind of amoral purgatory is the quick wit and caustic observations of MacDougall's characters, all of whom are deliciously oblivious to political correctness and deliver verbal punches at the hypocritical society that spawned them.

With:
Cast: Ron White (Dick), Randy Hughson (Bug), Brent Carver (Donnie), Clive Cholerton (Billy).

Each character is finely drawn, from big wheel Dick (Ron White), who won his reputation as a “nut cutter” when he tried to stab someone in the gut and aimed too low; and psychotic Bug (Randy Hughson), who scratches his crotch and picks his nose; to oleaginous, knife-wielding Billy (Clive Cholerton) and prissy Donnie (Carver).

Consummate performers all, the actors lift these lively and richly conceived characters off the page with an electric passion that almost, but not quite, masks the awkward question of just what exactly the play is saying.

Like Brad Fraser’s “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love,” which also began as a Crow’s Theater production, “High Life” perches on the edge of exploiting the very issues it raises; never, for example, is the routine brutality questioned.

MacDougall offers up such an outrageous and compassionate sense of humor that it catches you off guard. Donnie returns wallets after he uses the bank cards to get money because he knows “how hard it is to get new ID.” Dick goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings to make drug connections, and Bug feels lucky and blessed in between bouts of uncontrolled violence.

There’s just enough humanity, and laughs, to let MacDougall off the hook for the amorality, and the odds are that when “High Life” heads to Gotham after its Toronto run, New Yorkers will take these familiar, marginal characters to heart.

Popular on Variety

High Life

TORONTO

Production: A Harbourfront Center and Follows Latimer Entertainment presentation of a Crow's Theater production of a play in one act by Lee MacDougall. Directed by Jim Millan. Set, Millan, Glenn Davidson

Creative: ; lighting, Bonnie Beecher. Opened Feb. 26, 1997, at Harbourfront Center, du Maurier Theater Center. Reviewed March 2; 357 seats; C$39.50 top. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Cast: Ron White (Dick), Randy Hughson (Bug), Brent Carver (Donnie), Clive Cholerton (Billy).

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