Time after time: the chet baker project written by James O'Reilly, directed by Jim Millan, with Danny DePoe, Philippa Domville, Randy Hughson and Shaun Smyth. Presented by Crow's Theatre at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to April 6, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 3 pm. $25-$38, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NN
The walls of Africa written and directed by Hrant Alianak, with Layne Coleman, Tedde Moore and Catherine Black. Presented by Alianak Theatre Productions at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to April 6, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$28. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN
Think you know what makes a hit play? Check out a pair of sold-out 2001 productions that are coming back for more.Neither is outstanding -- but that's beside the point.
James O'Reilly's Time After Time: The Chet Baker Project exploits a hip and marketable brand name for commercial success.
Baker, of course, was the photogenic trumpeter/balladeer who personified West Coast jazz cool in the 1950s and 60s. He lived through most of the jazz clichés -- drugs, jail, women -- before mysteriously falling out an Amsterdam hotel window in 1988. A film documentary about him appeared a year later, solidifying his cachet.
The success of this show is partly due to marketing and demographics. It's being advertised not as great theatre but as "the ultimate jazz event." JazzFM91 is a sponsor.
To be fair, a lot of it consists of Baker (Danny DePoe), backed up by a fine trio, singing songs. As a concert, a middlebrow "tribute" show like Patsy! or Buddy, it's passable.
But award-winning writer O'Reilly (Work, Act Of God) uses the thinnest material to bridge the numbers. A writer character named Ted (Randy Hughson) hears a Baker song during his first dinner date with his future wife. That forced epiphany apparently begins Ted's Baker obsession, which finds him popping in on moments in Baker's life, interviewing, Citizen Kane-style, Baker's surviving friends and lovers and basically acting as narrator through this pretentious project.
Forget the argument that the play's loose structure mimics the free-form quality of jazz. Michael Ondaatje does that in his novel Coming Through Slaughter. O'Reilly and director Jim Millan cut back and forth between Baker bio and Ted's excellent adventures for little reason.
Besides DePoe's singing and playing (when he opens his mouth to talk he's wooden), Hughson, Shaun Smyth and especially the riveting Philippa Domville breathe life into their sketchily drawn characters.
Hrant Alianak's The Walls Of Africa suffers no identity problems. It knows what it is -- a look at loneliness and repression. Problem is, we've seen this story many times before. Hmm... does predictability equal box-office success?
Layne Coleman plays Mr. Pym, a lonely academic who initially ignores the advances of his equally lonely landlady, Mrs. Fields (Tedde Moore), deciding instead to fixate erotically on a fantasy woman (Catherine Black).
The show gets a superb production, with one of the most ingenious multilevel sets (by Steve Lucas) I've ever seen in the Passe Muraille Backspace and a sound design by Terry Crack that captures the thundering passions beneath lives devoted to books and culture.
What's missing is any sense of originality. Coleman and Moore deliver nuanced performances, each suggesting more than their minimal dialogue. But you can see this kind of story any week on the W channel, starring Bob Hoskins or Jeremy Irons, Hellen Mirren or Maggie Smith.
Maybe that explains the work's firstname.lastname@example.org reviews