Theatrical genius with a cinematic twist
Tear The Curtain! written by Jonathan Young and Kevin Kerr was originally commissioned by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre and draws loosely from the history of the Stanley Theatre, which was originally a movie cinema and later became a live theatre house.
It is hard to define what Tear The Curtain! is about because it is a play that draws on many sources and has many inspirations. There are layers I am certain I missed but none of that mattered because this is a visual spectacle that is flawlessly executed.
I am always a fan of theatre that allows for empty space, that isn’t neatly tied up, that leaves the audience grasping for what it all meant. It is like looking at a piece of art, my interpretation is not going to be the same as anyone else’s. For me, this show was art in motion.
The play is a 1920’s film noir detective story and follows theatre reviewer Alex Braithwaite on his quest to find artistic authenticity—a task that at times cracks him mentally. One is not sure what is imagined, a dream or reality in Braithwaite’s world. He gets mixed up with a seductress, Mila Brook, who is a stage actress hoping to break into the cinema. In the periphery, two rival mobs are battling it out, one side fighting for live theatre, the other fighting for cinema.
This is some of the most inventive work I have seen. Half of the play is actually a film, which was shot in 2009, and the film blends in flawlessly with the live action on stage, sometimes happening simultaneously. Cinematographer Brian Johnson’s film is beautifully shot and perfectly captures the era. This switching between live action and filmed work never gets tiresome, perhaps because it is executed so well.
Everyone involved with the creation of Tear The Curtain! should be commended. From Kim Collier’s expansive direction to Nancy Bryant’s gorgeous and authentic looking costumes, Alan Brodie’s fanciful lighting, David Roberts’ handsome production design to Peter Allen’s haunting composition.
The acting is simply sublime. Jonathan Young plays Alex Braithwaite and is as strong on film as he is on stage. He is a gifted performer who moves with balletic grace and acts with razor sharp precision. Dawn Petten plays the plucky, down to earth secretary and she is infinitely interesting and endlessly entertaining. The acting across the board is stylized to fit into the 1920’s acting model but it never seemed stilted or over the top.
The creator’s note in the progamme asks, “which form is more intimate, theatre or cinema?” Throughout the night, one form prevailed over another but it continuously shifted. When the lights came up on the house and Young stood at the edge of the stage looking at members of the audience, I would say ‘theatre’ had won. When Tom McBeath gave a misty eyed and heartfelt speech I would say ‘cinema’ had won. In the end, I don’t think it matters if there is a winner. It is about trying to answer or at least understand life’s questions through art. This play left me with a lot of questions and a lot to think about and the answers I suppose, I will have to figure out on my own.
Electric Company always brings the unexpected into the mix and Tear The Curtain! is no exception. The show plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until October 20th.
I would love some open dialogue about this production so I invite readers to comment and share your experience of this play.