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.