— Laura Mennell and Jonathon Young in Tear the Curtain! Photo by Tim Matheson.
TEAR THE CURTAIN!
Tear the Curtain! is an astonishing achievement. A remarkable hybrid of live stage and film, Jonathon Young and Kevin Kerr (script) and Kim Collier (direction) have created the first made-in-Vancouver theatre piece that can rival the technical brilliance of Robert Lepage. It probably couldn’t have been done—certainly not as slickly—without substantial monetary assistance from the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, which also helped fund Lepage’s The Blue Dragon. These two shows alone should make a potent argument for arts funding to our bone-headed governments.
Collier has made a gorgeous period film—with much credit to cinematographer Brian Johnson—which sometimes plays on the Stanley’s proscenium scrim and is sometimes projected onto David Roberts’ set. At times the film segues into live action with the same (excellent) actors appearing on the stage in the same scene with identical costumes (vivid period creations by Nancy Bryant). At other times the filmed scene will be projected onto the live scene, imaginatively lit by Alan Brodie. Or a scene will be playing live and we’ll simultaneously see it projected in close-up. The experience for the audience is exhilarating—and sometimes mind-boggling.
Like most of Electric Company’s ambitious creations, Tear the Curtain! has a baroque plot (confusing enough to cause a number of walkouts after the long first act) and is overwritten by 20 minutes or so. Despite the anguish of the central character, played beautifully by Jonathon Young in his most accomplished performance to date, the show remains largely an intellectual exercise in the synergistic possibilities of technology and live performance. But what synergies they are!
The metatheatrical story concerns theatre critic Alex Braithwaite (Young), writing for a Vancouver newspaper circa 1930. He gets involved in a clash between local live theatre mogul Patrick Dugan (Gerard Plunkett) and mobster Max Pamploni (Tom McBeath, who shines in one extended close-up), who controls the movie business in the city. Both lay claim to an empty lot on Granville Street . Will it become another movie theatre for Max or another live venue for Dugan? The Stanley, of course, started as one and became the other.
The two moguls also fight over gorgeous starlet Mila Brook (Laura Mennell), who splits her time between stage, screen and a revolutionary group (Hiro Kanagawa, Craig Erickson, Scott Bellis) that wants to blow up—figuratively and literally—traditional theatre and film venues and bring mass culture to the people with a fascinating new technology. Their inspiration is a strange local artist/actor named Stanley Lee (a creepy James Fagan Tait), who is supposed to be dead but may be living in a tent in Stanley Park, and who embodies the ideas of Theatre of Cruelty theorist/madman Antonin Artaud.
As Braithwaite gets in deeper and deeper with these characters and their various plots, his editor (David Adams) and loyal, smitten secretary Mavis (Dawn Petten in a lovely performance) try unsuccessfully to keep him from spinning out of control. But spin he does, in an increasingly desperate, hallucinatory, perhaps even murderous vortex that may or may not be creative madness à la Artaud. There’s a little too much stuff to wade through here but eventually we arrive at the sweet ending which brings us full circle back to—the Stanley Theatre!
Prepare to be confused a little, exasperated a little, and mesmerized a lot.