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Friday, June 14, 2024

Killer Joe is trailer trash theatre

From a recent visit to the seedy motel in Bug and an appearance by the Weston family on the big screen to the upcoming adventure in a trailer park with Killer Joe, seems Vancouver can’t get enough of Tracy Letts.

“When we decided on doing Killer Joe we had no idea that there would be a production of Bug or a film version of August: Osage County,” says Chelsea Haberlin,  ITSAZOO Productions Co-Artistic Director and director of the upcoming Killer Joe.  “What we were looking for was something that would be interesting in a site specific location.”

Masters of that site-specific genre, having previously mounted shows in the Russian Hall, Roedde Heritage Museum and even Queen Elizabeth Park, the award-winning Haberlin was not only excited by the possibilities of performing inside a single-wide, but was just as excited by the script.

“It was a page turner, and plays are rarely page turners,” says Haberlin on a break from the construction of the trailer park at the Italian Cultural Centre that will be home to the show.  “I fell in love with the people and wanted to see what they would look like when they come to life.”

Telling the story of a family pulled into a son’s plot to kill his mother and collect her life insurance policy, Killer Joe is unabashedly black, a genre Hablerin relishes and one she knows will likely attract a very specific audience.

“You’ll be able to walk around the trailer park, have some moonshine and even drink a beer from a paper bag" - Killer Joe director Chelsea Haberlin.
“You’ll be able to walk around the trailer park, have some moonshine and even drink a beer from a paper bag” – Killer Joe director Chelsea Haberlin.

“What we are looking for is the [Quentin] Tarantino audience,” confesses Haberlin.  “If you love his films then you are going to love this play.  We know everyone doesn’t like his movies, but some people just love that stuff and can’t get enough of it.  If you’re not okay with violence, sexuality and nudity then this is not your play.”

It is a calculated risk in targeting a specific audience though as Haberlin is convinced there are enough fans of this type of dark comedy in Vancouver to make it worthwhile.  Besides, with room for only 37 people in the trailer at one time, that calculation is also a practical one.

Of course bringing a show into a trailer that measures 60 feet long by 12 feet wide has just as much risk as the play’s content and for Haberlin  that is just part of the job as director.

“It is incredible how close the audience will be to the action,” says Haberlin who had her first visit inside the trailer the same day of our interview.  “My challenge is going to be sight lines, proximity and a sense of safety.”

That sense of safety is paramount for Haberlin who says that while she wants to ensure the audience feels the excitement of being inside the confined space of the trailer, they also should never feel like they are in any danger.

“Because the trailer is so long, sight lines are going to be a problem too,” she admits.  “But I’m taking the approach that while audiences might not see everything all the time, they will be able to hear everything and will definitely feel like you’re a fly-on-the-wall as the story unfolds.”

To help round out the experience, Haberlin and her crew are not stopping at a single trailer, but are also creating an installation of sorts with a second trailer as green and dressing room and a third that will be open to audiences to visit with other residents of the trailer park.

“You’ll be able to walk around the trailer park, have some moonshine and even drink a beer from a paper bag,” laughs Haberlin.

Killer Joe plays in the parking lot of the Italian Cultural Centre (3075 Slocan St.) from April 15 to May 4.  Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets.  Visit for more information.

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