Telling it like it is: inside the joint

Circus Incognito

Created and performed by Jamie Adkins

Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Fest, McPherson Playhouse, Victoria

May 21, 2016

Inside/Out

Written and performed by Patrick Keating

Uno Fest, Metro Studio, Victoria

May 24 and 25, 2016

Jamie Adkins was trained in the clown tradition, and so was Patrick Keating. But Adkins didn’t have to go to jail to find his calling. A native of San Diego, where he became a street performer at 13, Adkins added a lot of skills to his repertoire as he made his way from California to Montreal, where he joined Cirque Éloize.

On Saturday night, he delighted youngsters and adults alike with Circus Incognitus, a show of astounding variety. Adkins  is one funny guy, with a talent for surprising us. From an opening scene with a flashlight in the dark, to the “grande finale” involving a tightrope and a pair of ladders used like stilts, Adkins never skipped a beat, rolling from one routine to another with a light heart and true engagement with his audience.  It takes a great performer to look like a klutz doing things worthy of a trapeze artist.

A deft mover, Adkins  made a dance partner out of a wooden chair, over-balancing and tipping it on its edge. He juggled with ping pong balls that he later pushed into his mouth to make grotesque faces. He caught oranges thrown at him — on a fork held in his mouth. He dressed up and dressed down in his Buster Keaton suit and borrowed a few expressions from Charlie Chaplin in a mostly wordless act. One word Adkins did announce, with a child’s expression of wonder: “magic.” And magic this show was, from beginning to end.

When he was 13, Patrick Keating was a speed freak, on his way to heroin addiction. His first time behind bars was in juvenile detention, a hell hole for children. Keating was in and out of prisons in Quebec and British Columbia for nearly 10 years. Gallows humour informs his amazing monologue, as revealing a depiction of prison life as any memoir, but much more entertaining. His timing is impeccable.

Keating enters bearing a banker’s box of belongings, like a man just released from the joint. “It was my choice,” he says. Incarceration, that is. A judge offered him the choice of rehab or prison and he chose sentencing. “Life on the instalment plan,” is how he terms his lengthy stint.

A shy kid from an Irish Catholic background who grew up in east-end Montreal, Keating first earned respect after a school yard fight. Not yet a teenager, he became the drug dealers’ guard with a 12-guage shotgun aimed at the door. Soon this rather slight man was getting big sentences for armed robbery that meant penitentiary time. There he needed all his smarts just to survive. Keating’s tales bring to life characters such as the transgendered Madot, who sews her boyfriend a three-piece suit out of prison greens; Noel, the fearless Rastafarian; or Buddy, the car fanatic who had his pedal  foot nearly blown off by a cop.

There’s much wisdom in Keating’s show, about how loyalty and generosity are developed in prison and how the arts, theatre in this case, can be a way to true rehabilitation. Keating performs Inside/Out again at 8:30 Wednesday in the Metro Studio.

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