Emilia Di Luca
Film Noir jumps off the silver screen and onto the Bluma Appel Theatre with Canadian Stage’s production of Helen Lawrence. Acclaimed artist Stan Douglas and award-winning playwright Chris Haddock adapt the infamous genre for the stage.
After performances in Munich and Edinburgh, the show’s masterminds, director Douglas and playwright Haddock, share Helen Lawrence with Toronto. The play combines three-dimensional graphics, film footage and traditional theatre to tell the tale of Helen (Lisa Ryder), a femme fatale who seeks revenge on the notorious Percy Walker (Nicholas Lea).
The primary plot intertwines the stories of Vancouver locals in 1948: crooked cops (Ryan Hollyman and Greg Ellwand), feuding brothers (Allan Louis and Sterling Jarvis) and independent women (Crystal Balint, Haley McGee and Emily Piggford). The characters struggle for power and search for loyalty.
From the acting talent to the innovative technology, Lawrence dazzles the audience with beautiful images alongside the smooth sounds of John Gzowski’s score. Douglas’ mixed media effectively tailors Film Noir for the stage.
The blue screen is the magic behind Lawrence. Actors perform on stage with minimal set pieces. Meanwhile, operators subtlety maneuver cameras around the stage. Both live and pre-filmed footage appear in black and white on the giant blue screen. The audience sees the same performance simultaneously in two places: on stage and on screen. The screen provides the detailed background and furnishings that the stage lacks. Essentially, Douglas layers film over theatre. Between scenes, three-dimensional technology provides a bird’s-eye view of a recreated Vancouver in 1948.
The complexity of the technology doesn’t show; rather, it exudes elegance. The cool tones of the black and white film contrast the warm yellow spotlight showering over the actors on stage. Another beautiful tension: the large detailed close-ups on screen elaborate the expressions of the actors’ hard-to-see faces on stage.
The stellar ensemble demonstrates their ability to act for two different forms of media. Lea shines in his role as the troubled Percy, especially when he strangles Harry Mitchell (Hrothgar Mathews); Ryder slips into the sensual heels of the revengeful Lawrence; Louis captures the desperate, but kind heart of Buddy Black. These leads have strong support from such actors as Haley McGee, playing the curious orphan, Julie Winters. Rather than upstage the talent, the technology highlights it.
Between the talent and technology, Lawrence peaks with brilliance in several scenes. The opening scene is, however, the strongest; it brings together the stage and screen in a clear dialogue.
In front of the blue screen, two doctors prepare Lawrence for a treatment. They slip a mouth guard in Lawrence’s mouth, crank up the voltage on their instrument and—zap. Douglas cuts from stage to screen. Suddenly, the first face-to-face the audience has with Helen Lawrence is film footage of her upside-down, wide-eyed and convulsing with electric current. The moment swells with suspense and surprise—Douglas needs more moments like this.
Thankfully, Douglas employs a similar technique at the play’s conclusion. That said, Helen Lawrence engages its audience from start to finish. While the technologies of the show aren’t brand new to theatre, Douglas uses them to make one classy show, not to be missed.
Canadian Stage’s Helen Lawrence runs until November 2nd at the Bluma Appel Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit www.canadianstage.com.
photo credit: David Cooper
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EVITA: The LOT presents unprepared
After a phenomenal kick-off to the fall season with such hits as Hair and Hedwig, the Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT) detours their journey of success with Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical Evita. Directed by Heather Braaten, Evita narrates the rags-to-riches lifestyle of previous Argentine First Lady, Eva Peron. Due to the LOT’s many outstanding past productions, expectations are always heightened based on robust performances and headline titles. This time around, however, the LOT sadly delivers unprepared, uncoordinated and utterly unsynchronized.
The story of Eva Peron (Victoria Scully) is both complex and controversial. Having grown up in rural Argentina and disowned by her bourgeoise father, life was anything but simple for young Eva Duarte. Eva runs off to Buenos Aires at the age of 15 and attempts a career in radio and stage plays, eventually appearing onscreen. After networking through bedroom affairs, Eva meets Juan Peron (Mischa Aravena) at a banquet in support of an earthquake relief mission. The relationship immediately takes off, Eva becomes involved in politics and the two overtake the nation, but Eva’s diagnosis of cervical cancer leads to the tragic demise of both. To this day, Eva is still heralded in Argentina as nation saint from the masses who continue to adore her. All of this is relayed to us by the production’s narrator, Che (Christopher Benjamin), often paralleling the revolutionary rebel, Che Guevara.
None of this was emphasized in the production.
Evita is an operetta falling under the rock-musical genre. It consists of solid numbers, an ardent ensemble, and three notably powerful characters. Mischa Aravena’s portrayal of Juan Peron was among the strongest, both vocally and impressionably. Christopher Benjamin’s depiction of Che did not work. Victoria Scully’s leading performance in the title character was absent and immediately lost. The ensemble of ten worked well at times, yet the members were unsynchronized as a group and with the music. The entire cast vocally succeeded during flashes of communal significance, but failed at personal attempts to insert vocal domination over a canonical piece.
The music was far too shallow. Although wonderfully harmonized and successful in keeping with the overall flow, the band lacked authority. Stephanie Ramphos’ choreography is called into question. Many of the dominant gender roles at the time in Argentine society were lost through effeminate gestures and an unprepared ensemble. The numbers were far too campy. Attempts at humour and satire were presented during climactic moments of utmost significance, all vital to delivering the challenging narrative. The humour was not effective.
The production lacks any form of prevalent culture.
Audiences are immediately bombarded with a visual of utmost appalling construction. Michael Galloro’s scenic design is dark and irrelevant. Furthermore, Mikael Kangas’ lighting design undermined the ability to disguise Galloro’s unitary eyesore. The lighting lost all emphasis during moments of sincere potential and thus the entire production. Kathleen Black’s costumes were rushed, portraying historical accuracy at a bare minimum. Themes of oppression and struggle were lost in the absence of an aristocracy, more strangely in the lack of military presence. The aristocrats are primitive, yet their performances were lacklustre – a true contradiction to the lyrics and narrative. The military lurks throughout Argentina’s history as a destructive and oppressing civil force. The absenteeism of both socio-economic and authoritative groups assisted in leading to the production’s demise.
Evita is presented by the Lower Ossington Theatre and runs to Nov. 23 on the theatre’s mainstage. With tickets ranging from $49.99 to $69.99, please visit www.lowerossingtontheatre.com or call the box office at 416.915.6747.