Needle and the damage done

ReVamp Collective and Plays and Players Theatre present Jimmy Gorski Is Dead’

2 minute read
Richie Sklar as Jimmy and Erin Carr as Christina. (Photo by Shamus Hunter McCarty)
Richie Sklar as Jimmy and Erin Carr as Christina. (Photo by Shamus Hunter McCarty)

The rise in opioid-related deaths in Pennsylvania and across the nation hasn't dispelled the mistaken notion that people who use drugs are hopeless, derelict junkies. Kristen M. Scatton's drama Jimmy Gorski Is Dead, produced by ReVamp Collective and Plays and Players Theatre, reminds us that anyone can use drugs -- and many normal and productive citizens do, despite the dangers.

Richie Sklar plays Jimmy, a 27-year-old aspiring musician who works in his father's auto shop in a small Pennsylvania town. Girlfriend Christina (Erin Carr) studied film in New York City, then returned home. Just when Jimmy works up the nerve to propose, Christina receives a job offer in New York and Jimmy's dad promises the shop to him. Should they stay or go?


That dramatic opening sets one of several timelines. One portrays the present, as the title tells us: Jimmy has died, and Christina, best friend Phil (Arlen Hancock), and brother Scott (Kevin Rodden) mourn and bicker. Another timeline, the recent past, starts with the proposal. A series of flashbacks fleshes out story details and takes us farther into the past.

The device proves tricky. Carly L. Bodnar's production handles the transitions well, helped by Damien Figueras's sound, which eerily signals flashbacks, and Amanda Jensen's lighting, bathing the distant past in harsh fluorescents and clearly defining the other periods. Though these lurches in the script sometimes add suspense, they more often stall dramatic build when several scenes abruptly cut away to another time.

Scatton's story swells convincingly when Scott interrupts Christina and Phil's commiserating to accuse Christina of ruining his brother's life. Scott is Phil's opposite, an injured former sports hero who survives on past glory, hookups, and drink. Scott resents the closeness Jimmy enjoyed with both Christina and Phil, but persists in blaming them.

After all, as Scott says, "Since when do happy people do heroin?"

No easy answers

This question is addressed in Jimmy's final days, illustrating Scatton's thesis: a normal guy who smokes a little pot occasionally could be susceptible to something heavier, especially because he's convinced that “heroin is pretty much the same as Oxy.” It's not satisfying, since Jimmy has much to live for -- but it's dramatically true and important. While the post-funeral confrontations reveal much about Jimmy's relationships with Scott, Phil, and Christina, they don't obscure the visceral impact of the meaninglessness of Jimmy's death.

Raven Buck transforms Plays and Players' third-floor Skinner Studio into a humble apartment, and the young ensemble dives into this rich emotional material with heart. Jimmy Gorski Is Dead makes for powerful theater because the damage done to Jimmy’s survivors rings true.

What, When, Where

Jimmy Gorski Is Dead. By Kristen M. Scatton, Carly L. Bodnar directed. ReVamp Collective and Plays and Players. Through March 25, 2017, at the Plays and Players Theatre's Skinner Studio, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. (215) 735-0630 or

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