A binge too far

Drug- and alcohol-fueled 3… 2… 1 is the best new play of the season

3… 2… 1 is a very hard kind of play to write. Written and performed by
Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, it’s 90 minutes of two guys hanging
out, shooting the shit, exchanging childhood memories, casually insulting
each other, occasionally beating each other up and pouring so much alcohol
and cocaine into their systems that you know very early on that there’s
no way the evening can possibly end well. The trick with this kind of project
is figuring out how to write pages and pages of dialogue that sounds
believable as aimless, guy-guy small talk without letting it actually become
aimless, and on this count, Cuckow and Craddock have succeeded magnificently.
What initially seems to be nothing more than a raucous, vulgar comedy builds,
subtly but surely, to a tragic, borderline-melodramatic ending that’s
at once surprising and inevitable. Craddock and Cuckow play Clinton and Kyle,
two underachieving buddies who’ve lived their entire lives in
Wetaskiwin. As the play begins and they embark upon an epic bender, chugging
down three beers each in quick succession (“You’ve got to lay
down a good base,” Clinton explains) before moving onto the whiskey,
the vodka, the pot, the cocaine, the poppers and the “optional”
dose of heroin, you think they’re indulging simply because, as citizens
of Wetaskiwin, they’ve got no other way of entertaining themselves. But
it soon becomes apparent that they’re playing hooky from the funeral of
their close friend Danny, whose loss has left them feeling, to use
Clinton’s oddly moving metaphor, like the Oilers after Gretzky left,
but without a Messier around to pick up the slack. Danny remains a ghostly,
tantalizingly presence the play right until the end, but Cuckow and Craddock
give us a very clear portrait of the two friends he’s left behind. Kyle
is the rich kid, a passive friend who’s always joined in with Clinton
and Danny’s wild behaviour even though he knows that it’s only a
matter of time before he’ll have to pull up his socks and take a job at
his dad’s car dealership. Clinton is more full of contradictions:
he’s full of anger toward his shiftless, alcoholic dad even though
he’s similarly unambitious and fond of drinking to excess; he’s
at once deeply cynical about the world and yet he’s also a sincere
Christian; he’s violently homophobic and yet the closest relationships
in his life are all with men. Remarkably, Cuckow and Craddock convey all this
information about these guys almost exclusively through extended monologues
about each character’s ultimate sex fantasy (Clinton favours a
three-way with Liz Phair and Ginger from Gilligan’s Island while Danny,
in a flashback, envisions “a Pamela Anderson sandwich with a side order
of the chick from Species”) and running jokes about Kyle contracting
“ass cancer” and having it spread to his eyes. Craddock and
Cuckow have a wonderful ear for the weird mix of vulgarity and idealism that
characterizes long conversations between young, rowdy guys, and while the
dialogue occasionally slips into a ping-pong rhythm that makes Clinton and
Kyle sound like two clever Edmonton playwrights talking rather than two kids
from Wetaskiwin, the dialogue is so funny, energetic and often just plain
inspired in its flights of profane imagination that you hardly care. And,
except for the cheaply ironic song that we hear as the lights go down at the
very end of the play, you never get the feeling that Cuckow and Craddock are
condescending to their characters in their acting or their
writing—underneath all the swearing and the dirty jokes, they take
these guys’ frustrations and their vague dreams of a better life very
seriously. Director Kevin Sutley and designer Marissa Kochanski have created
a show that’s perfectly scaled to the small Azimuth Theatre stage;
Kochanski’s set creates a vivid sense of place (it’s the essence
of every minimally furnished “guy’s shack” you’ve
ever seen) without hemming the actors in, while Sutley has found to way to
let Craddock and Cuckow deliver two intense performances, full of screaming
and shouting, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the audience members
sitting just two feet away from them. Aaron Macri’s cinematic sound
design shows a similar sensitivity to the tricky dynamics that exist in the
Azimuth space. 3… 2… 1 is the most satisfying new play I’ve seen
all season; don’t let the countdown reach zero before you’ve had
a chance to see it yourself. V 3… 2… 1 Directed by Kevin Sutley •
Written and performed by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow • Azimuth
Theatre (11315-106 Ave) • To May 23 • 454-0583

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