theatre review

by Hrant Alianak
Fox & Hounds Theatre Co.
Railtown Theatre
138 E. Cordova
October 20-24, 27-30

The Blues is as Canadian as apple pie, both an homage to and mockery of American culture. Written by Toronto playwright Hrant Alianak, it was first produced at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1976 when, much like today, Canadians had spent years watching smugly from the sidelines as the U.S. had gotten itself more and more deeply entangled in a disastrous foreign war. At the same time Canadians were then, and are even more so now, falling ever deeper into the embrace of American popular culture. The Blues is a love letter to the quintessential American musical form and to the American film noir. At the same time the play mocks the self-indulgence and self-dramatizing tendencies of its prototypical American characters.

We’re in Aldo’s Bar, New York City, 1951. Tyrone, nursing a bourbon and trying to write his novel, calls it “a depressing dump.” But he’s interested in Ripples, the “tramp” with the broken heart, who laments her lost love like the relentlessly downbeat Billie Holiday tunes on the radio that provide the show’s sound track: “I did it for love—love made me bad!” The chain-smoking bartender, Aldo, doesn’t have a lot to say until he falls for Virginia, a Salvation Army girl who enters this den of sin to save them all but turns out instead to be the one who needs saving.

There’s not much more to this play than its style. It’s a genre piece and the characters are types: they have no depth and no real development so we pretty much get it after the first few scenes. The rest of the play relies for its effect on bluesy atmosphere, bravura writing by Alianak, and the actors’ ability to make his long, strange monologues sing. Even under the best of circumstances, most of the second act feels redundant.

Director Jeremy Radick and his cast have mixed success capturing the style and especially the difficult blues rhythms of the writing. Sarah Kashani as Ripples does the strongest, most textured work, making her floozy on the skids sympathetic and funny despite an accent that comes and goes. Michelle Lefler is terrific in Virginia’s big scene where she gets drunk, throws off her inhibitions and her clothes, and imagines herself in delicious horror falling in love with her pimp and going straight to hell. But she has trouble keeping the character interesting the rest of the way. As Aldo, Michael Jonsson has strong physical presence and a big voice. Peter Abrams as Tyrone the novelist--the Bogie character—never quite finds the strength, sharpness, focus and withering cynicism that the genre requires.

Fox & Hounds is a young company that has taken on challenging work here and done a pretty good job. I look forward to seeing their next project.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:08 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy