By Patrick Keating. Directed by Stephen Malloy. Presented in association with Neworld Theatre, Main Street Theatre and Urban Crawl. At Little Mountain Gallery on April 2. Continues until April 12
It’s been a long time since Patrick Keating took his first theatre class as an inmate at Matsqui Institution, but that experience paved the way for this intimate, accomplished solo show, a memoir of Keating’s years of incarceration.
Keating describes himself as a shy, skinny kid growing up in Montreal’s East End who took his first toke at the age of 12 and quickly progressed to harder drugs. “Look at you, using needles when you’re not even a teenager,” an older friend in the scene dopily enthuses. His drug use slides into activities that quickly put him on the wrong side of the law.
Keating doesn’t share a lot of details about the crimes that landed him in prison, and any sense of introspection is only hinted at. “It was my choice,” he tells us of his first stint: at a sentencing hearing, the teenaged Keating rejects the idea of rehab, and finds himself with a three-year sentence. “I thought maybe I hadn’t picked the right door,” is all he says of that decision.
What he does offer is a delicately observed and thoroughly engaging collection of stories about life inside; his prison career lasted, he relates, “10 years, more or less, in and out, mostly in”.
Keating’s descriptions are honed and evocative. When he first spends the night in juvenile detention, “the atmosphere adds 10 pounds to each shoulder” and his bunk smells of “mothballs, stale sweat, and athlete’s feet”. His understated delivery and crack timing make many of his stories darkly funny. His incredulous account of the differences between minimum and maximum security prisons ends with a weary, “When people treat you like a regular person? Fuck, it wears you down.”
Director Stephen Malloy makes a virtue of simplicity in Little Mountain Gallery’s intimate space. Complementing Keating’s spare, straightforward delivery is the nearly naked set by Barbara Clayden, Kate De Lorme’s effectively minimalist sound design, and Itai Erdal’s emotionally nuanced lighting.
In his program notes, Keating informs us that the educational opportunities that helped him to finally turn his life around are not available to inmates today. Given our government’s simple-minded and destructive “tough-on-crime” stance, this play is a vivid and necessary reminder that people in prison are, first and foremost, human beings.