TEAR THE CURTAIN! by Jonathon Young and Kevin Kerr with Kim Collier, directed by Collier (Electric Company/Arts Club/Canadian Stage). At the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). To October 20, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $24-$99. 416-368-3110. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Do you like powerful theatre, amazingly staged? And are you drawn to film noir?
If so, you get two shows in one with Tear The Curtain!, an intriguing production by Vancouver's Electric Company, which has previously impressed Toronto audiences with No Exit and Studies In Motion.
Tear The Curtain! goes even further into the multimedia blend that the company does so well, telling the narrative in a clever, jaw-droppingly seamless blend of live performance and filmed segments.
At the tale's centre is Alex Braithwaite (Jonathon Young), a 30s Vancouver theatre reviewer whose work is threatened by the newly emerging talkies. In fact, there's a feud between the town's theatre mob boss, Dugan (Gerard Plunkett) and its cinema mob boss, Pamploni (Tom McBeath). At times Alex is caught literally in the crosshairs of the rival gangs as they fight for control of the newly built Stanley Theatre, an actual Vancouver venue.
Add the seductive and mysterious Mila Brook (Laura Mennell), an actor whose loyalties are always in doubt, Mavis (Dawn Petten), Alex's loyal, infatuated secretary and Stanley Lee (James Fagan Tait), a mystic theatre guru, and the mix becomes even more complex.
But that's part of the point of this noirish story, for the audience sometimes has to be as unsure and puzzled as Alex as he investigates the roots and current status of The Empty Stage, an avant-garde troupe that Lee founded decades earlier.
Written by Young and Kevin Kerr with the assistance of director Kim Collier, the production features some excellent acting, notably by Young, the two women in his life and the sometimes fierce, sometimes pathetic Tait as the key to the tale's meaning.
The show's success is due in no small part to designers David Roberts (production), Nancy Bryant (costumes), Alan Brodie (lighting) along with cinematographer Brian Johnson and composer Peter Allen. Look, too, for an intentionally disorienting use of clips from Jean Cocteau's surreal The Blood Of A Poet.
The smooth blend of film and live action is always remarkable. The two can mirror each other, sometimes one melts into the other; at others the two mediums offer different perspectives on the story. A film screen is occasionally used in front of the play's set; later, the set itself becomes the screen on which characters are projected. In one mind-spinning box-inside-a-box-inside-a-box moment, Alex scrambles beneath the film screen and finds, "backstage," a miniature model of the play's set that he himself inhabits.
At one level, Tear The Curtain! is about dualities and how they can or can't work together: film/stage, real/illusory, chaos/creation, even Irish/Italian. The concept of duality may not be central to the storytelling, but it adds another layer to the piece's complexity.
Sometimes the sections involving Lee's theories are philosophical and esoteric. You might not follow it all, but the staging, filled with visual surprises, keeps the action moving.
The production has a short run, so catch it soon. You've never seen the theatre's fourth wall broken in such a creative fashion.