Review: Killer Joe (Coal Mine Theatre)

Killer_Joe_2Coal Mine Theatre’s Killer Joe,  on stage in Toronto, has “humor and courage”

As soon as I entered the Coal Mine Theatre, I was immersed in the dirty, trailer park world of Killer Joe. The audience was packed in, a hairsbreadth away from the action, with discarded take out containers at our feet and plastic ceiling tiles overhead. Was it always comfortable? No, but we were forced to take a hard look at the grit and violence of a world that society would often prefer to ignore. The cast and crew did a good job of authentically creating that world, especially considering a few of the curve balls in the script.

Killer Joe takes place inside the trailer of a Texas family. They are broke, sloppy, and bold. The story kicks off when Chris (Matthew Gouveia), the son, convinces his father Ansel (Paul Fauteux) that they should kill their mother/ex-wife to collect insurance money. In comes Killer Joe (Matthew Edison), a detective who works as a hit man on the side. The only catch is, until he is paid, he has full use of Dotty (Vivien Endicott-Douglas), the young sister of the family.

The story is at times surreal and over the top with its antics and gore; at others  it is sickeningly and inescapably real. While this combination was occasionally jarring, I liked that it blurred the line between the absurd and the expected, forcing the audience to see where those two worlds overlap. That being said, the ending was a bit too far in the world of surreal for me personally, but I won’t ruin it here.

The play itself leaves a lot of room to showcase each actor, and the cast of Killer Joe at Coal Mine Theatre certainly took advantage of that. Every character has a chance to build up an expectation and then somehow defy it. Madison Walsh, who played Sharla Smith, the stepmom of the family, had a particularly gut wrenching turn. She builds herself up as a tough, street smart woman, and the scene where she gets brutally taken down is the most powerful of the show. Gouveia also stands out among the talented cast as Chris, the family screw up, who is both hilariously desperate and truly endearing.

I mentioned details of the set earlier, but I was absolutely blown away by the detail and cleverness of Patrick Lavender’s set and lighting design. Every piece seemed intrinsically important and useful to the plot and in establishing the world, from the fly swatter to the battered appliances and the glow of the TV. Lavender put me in that trailer completely, and I will certainly be watching for more of his work in the future.

Overall, Killer Joe explores themes of violence, sex, family and desperation with humor and courage. Director Peter Pasyk does not shy away from the tough moments and treats the more tender moments with the gentleness they deserve. I would highly recommend going out to see this one, but be prepared for the highest highs and lowest lows of life at its most dirty.


  • Killer Joe is playing at Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Avenue) until April 24th
  • Tickets are regular $35, with Rush tickets available at the door 10 minutes before the show for $25 (subject to availability, cash only)
  • Shows run Thursday through Sunday at 7 30pm
  • Tickets can be purchased online or at the door

Production poster provided by the company