In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans.
As punishment, he was chained to a rock and forced to have his liver gnawed on by an eagle.
A similar cycle of liver destruction assails the characters of the Mighty Carlins, said director Michael Clark.
On the first anniversary of the death of the his wife, Leo Carlin and his two sons gather in the Carlin family kitchen to reminisce.
From the outset, the family has the horrific magnetism of a car wreck.
As the Carlins swig beers, scheme and hurl vicious abuse upon one another, “you can’t take your eyes off them,” says Clark.
“It’s a very dark world, in the first 10 pages I can’t even count the number of f-bombs and racial slurs,” he said.
“Paki” finds its way into the dialogue within the first five minutes.
“The first time I read this play, it took me half an hour to wipe this horrified grin off my face.”
The Mighty Carlins won the “discovery” category of the 2004 Alberta Playwrighting Competition, but it would be four more years until it found its way into production, premiering in Edmonton in 2008.
Stage and screen veteran John Wright, who is in Whitehorse to reprise his role of Leo Carlin, was first taken by Mighty Carlins during a 2004 workshop series.
“It’s quick, fast, witty – you have to earn your pauses,” said Wright.
It resembles the writings of writer David Mamet, whose terse, vulgar dialogue peppers the likes of Wag the Dog and Glengarry Glen Ross, said Wright.
There are no throwaway lines, even if the play’s characters do remain in a state of perpetual drunkenness.
“It’s like a roller coaster; if you suddenly skip, then you’re out in space,” said Clark.
Writer Collin Doyle was a celebrated actor long before he became a playwright.
It shows, said Clark.
“He knows how to write for the human tongue and he knows how to write for the human ear,” he said.
Doyle wrote in the character of Leo specifically with Wright in mind.
“Because I’m a grumpy old goat,” said Wright in a voice tinged with gruffness, a vocal souvenir of almost four decades in Canadian theatre.
Edmonton’s the Gateway called Leo “a cross between Jack Lemmon in Grumpy Old Men and Archie Bunker from All in the Family.”
“I think he makes Archie Bunker look like Archie,” said Wright, referring to the G-rated American comic book character.
When All in the Family launched in 1971, producers braced for negative reactions to Bunker’s bigoted attitudes.
Ultimately, the character’s “frankness,” however brash, became his most endearing quality.
The Carlins amps up the level of brashness considerably. In their inhibition-free world, honesty runs wild.
“My character has a bit of pretense,” said local actor Brian Fidler, whose character, Davey, is a security guard and aspiring porn star. In the Carlin universe, the two professions offer Davey a valuable sense of legitimacy.
“But they just knock it down, they just call him on it constantly,” he said.
Mike remains perpetually unemployed – subsisting only by pawning furniture stolen from his father.
Alcoholism plays a starring role in the Mighty Carlins. Both through the characters’ surly personalities and through the empty beer cans that gradually litter the stage.
“It’s an ordinary life seen through the filter of alcoholism,” said Saskatoon-based Joshua Beaudry, who plays Mike.
The three actors, between them, consume 20 beer cans filled with soda water to replicate the Carlins’ heavy drinking.
A massive crate of soda water sits among studio lighting
With no backstage restroom, the actors receive no relief to their bladder until the final curtain call.
“It’s the magic of theatre, the dedication of the actor to his craft,” said Clark.
The Carlins’ poor communication skills immediately reek of a booze-soaked upbringing. Tenderness is non-existent, and every phrase drips with venom, mockery and jealousy.
“They communicate by hurting each other,” said Clark.
Over all the abuse, a thin veil of love somehow rises almost imperceptibly to the surface. The family engineers a blinding tornado of unpleasantries, but there still exists some force that brings them together, even though none of them would ever have the guts to admit it.
Still, when the house lights go up, no agenda will have been forced, no moral will have been found and the characters will not find redemption.
The annual tradition of honouring the Carlin matriarch is doomed to repeat itself, giving the Carlins’ drunken misogyny and entropic cyclism.
Dark, but not tragic. Stinging social critique, but well-crafted comedy.
“You’re laughing at it, but you’re laughing at things that are horrifying to you,” said Clark.
Whitehorse represents the show’s second production, a key theatrical milestone for the young play.
“A subsequent production for Canadian theatre is a fairly important thing because it doesn’t happen a lot of the time,” said Clark.
Clark was formerly artistic director of Nakai Theatre before moving to Edmonton.
The Mighty Carlins’ working-class alcoholism created nostalgia in the former Yukoner.
“It’s guys in winter jackets with goofy hats on with a table full of beer, it struck me: ‘Jesus, it’s like I haven’t left the Yukon,’” he said.
At the same time, nothing spells universality than alcohol-soaked family dysfunction.
“We could do this play in the Netherlands, with everyone speaking Dutch,” said Wright.
What’s “Paki” in Dutch?
The Mighty Carlins runs Wednesday to Saturday, March 18 to 21, and March 25 to 28, at 8 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall.
Contact Tristin Hopper at