GAGARIN WAY by Gregory Burke, directed by Jim Millan, with Aidan Devine, Shawn Doyle, Hardee T. Lineham and Matthew MacFadzean. Presented by Crow's Theatre and World Stage at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Previews tonight (Thursday, April 10), opens Friday (April 11) and runs to April 27, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Sunday and April 12 at 3 pm. $35-$40 from April 11-15, preview $10; thereafter $25-$31, Sunday pwyc. 416-973-4000 (April 11-15), 416-975-8555.
world stage festival preview
Disillusionment with the world -- politics, economy, society -- isn't typically the source of laughter, but Scottish playwright Gregory Burke mines freight cars of dark comedy from Gagarin Way.Yet the Edinburgh and London hit is a thriller as well as a comedy. Two disaffected workers kidnap someone they think is upper management, planning to make a statement by their deed. But things get botched -- in part due to their own ineptness -- and the plot takes several nasty turns.
"The trick is not to emphasize the comedy," says Shawn Doyle, who plays Eddie, the violence-loving philosopher who knows how to manipulate all the others. "The thread of humour is there, but our process in rehearsal is to relieve ourselves of the comedy and play the action's high stakes.
"It's up to the audience to decide what's funny, not for us to tell them."
Gagarin Way marks Doyle's first stage appearance in nearly six years. He's spent a lot of time in front of the camera, acting in films like Who Is Cletis Tout and The Majestic and his current project, TV show The Eleventh Hour, which benefits from an ensemble cast of strong stage performers.
I remember his fine work in such plays as Problem Child (another play with high stakes), Digging For Fire and A Christmas Carol. In the last, Doyle played the young Ebenezer, not a character who usually stands out. But Doyle can give emotional complexity to even the seemingly simplest of roles. In the course of one scene, Doyle showed us Scrooge's humanity beginning to curdle.
The ability to suggest tenderness beneath a thorny, dangerous exterior is one of Doyle's specialties, and my mentioning it brings him back to Eddie.
"He's a sharp, streetwise, hot fucker," offers the actor in a Scottish accent before switching back to standard Canadian English. "That's a definitive quality to the man, something I've fought from day one as I looked for other sides to him."
Doyle's come quite a way from his first roles in musical theatre -- he's a fine singer -- back home in Newfoundland. He took the role of gang leader Riff in West Side Story after being told there was no dancing involved. As if. Trying to work with the dancers the first day of rehearsal is an embarrassing theatre memory.
He's more at home in straight theatre and on the screen, where he's played the villain trying to kill Dennis Quaid in Frequency and an FBI agent on Jim Carrey's trail in The Majestic.
Burke went from dishwasher to acclaimed playwright with Gagarin Way, and Doyle's delighted to be working with such sharp, direct dialogue.
"Even in the most strategic moments of action, the words come from an emotional place. There's no detachment here; everyone's always present."
And the Scottish dialect?
"The rhythms are so anti-Canadian. It seems natural to be loud and big and to pump up the words to make a point. There's no internal censor involved here." firstname.lastname@example.org