Reviewing a play about a theatre critic is a bit existential for me, but what the heck? I have thoughts. And also feelings. Mostly feelings.
Anyway, once upon a time, I started watching a little Canadian show called SANCTUARY, which from time to time co-starred as Nikola Tesla (vampire), a Canadian actor named Jonathon Young. Young is one of those Canadian actors who has been in almost everything (as opposed to one of those actors who has been in EVERYTHING), so I recognized him from Stargate Atlantis, but not from anything else. He has a very distinct presence, though, and when I couldn’t find too many other shows he’d been in, I went looking a little further afield.
This brought me to the Electric Company Theatre, and to Tear The Curtain!
Some advice? The trailer is not really all that helpful. I can understand why people who went to this show not knowing anything about the ECT were a bit…thrown. Because it’s very and profoundly (and unapologetically) weird.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, I saw the trailer back when I was living in Alberta, and was immediately very sad that I had missed the company when they toured another play in Edmonton, three days before I found out who they were. I had resigned myself to maybe never seeing them except in the few clips available on their website (which I recommend, btw. Both THE FLANNIGAN AFFAIR and AT HOME WITH DICK AND JANE are available. Both are also COMPLETELY BIZARRE), unless I was very lucky and happened to someday be in Vancouver when they were doing a show.
Fast-forward to last spring, when I found out that TEAR THE CURTAIN would be part of CAN STAGE. I immediately decided I was going, even if I had to sell a kidney. I didn’t have to do that, and so on Friday night, I met up with my friend Trish, and we went to the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts…
And the magic happened.
It was, without question, weird. Parts of it were like being in English class the day your teacher got so angry he came to work and yelled at you for forty minutes about being mundane. Parts of it were like a dance. Parts of it were actually a dance. Parts of it were beautiful. Parts of it made complete and total sense. Parts of it were the opposite of that.
At its heart, for me, Tear the Curtain! is a play about stories, but also about the people who love stories, what that love can do. It was the story of a person who was paid to do something he loved, forgot that he loved it, found out that he loved it again, went a bit off the deep end, and then found that happy place where he can do both: love and live, and also be loved as a bonus.
I fully expected to love every moment Young was on stage, and I very much did. As I said, he has a presence that is…hard to describe (it’s in his fingers. The way he stands there, in front of everyone, and his EVEN HIS FINGERS are acting). But the surprise for me was Mavis. Dawn Petten, in a break with tradition, has NOT been in everything, so she was completely new for me, and Mavis, Mavis was just fabulous. At the end, when she hears Lillian Gish’s voice for the first time…that is a feeling I’ve had. It was gorgeous.
I can’t really go further without talking about how the play was presented. The ECT does a lot of mixed media work, and Tear the Curtain!, being about the clash of film and stage anyway, rather lends itself to that kind of mixing. But it wasn’t just “Hey, now we’re going to play a clip!” jumping back and forth between the stage and the screen (which was usually just projected on the stage itself). It was entirely blended. Sometimes the screen showed you another angle of the scene. Sometimes the screen showed you what the characters were themselves seeing. Sometimes it was kind of everything, acting back and forth. In every case, though, the actors’ movements were (almost perfectly) synced with the film.
This becomes particularly amazing when you realize that the film portions were shot in 2008, across the country, in another theatre altogether. All of the actors have done the play before, but a while before, and they had to adapt it to a new stage. It was pretty darn impressive, and even from our seats in the second row, it wasn’t overwhelming. I was worried at first that the film meant there would be less stage magic (which I love), but it soon became apparent that they were going to do a lot of the film on stage anyway, so it actually became even better.
SPEAKING OF BEING IN THE SECOND ROW! A portion of the play takes place from the floor, which meant there were several instances, including the ending of the play, where I was very close to both Young and Petten. When the lights came back on at the end, Trish was all “You did really well! You only kind of squeaked once!” and I was all “OMG, THEY WERE ACTING RIGHT THERE!”
There were a bunch of tiny moments I loved, aside from Mavis’s reaction to Lillian Gish. Young did a whole speech with a cigarette in his mouth, and I was all “OMG, THE DICTION!” When Tom McBeath took his bow at the end, there were several whoops from the crowd. Young did everything from jerk to cad to breakdown to sad to genuinely happy and it was beautiful. I may have seen Kim Collier’s hand, if she was the one waving in the box during the calls at the end.
I think one of the coolest things about Tear the Curtain! was listening to the audience talk about it afterwards. In the washroom at intermission, I overheard about eight variations of “I have no idea what is happening, but I like it!” and on the way out after the play was over, there was a lot of “So…how of that actually just happened?”. I’m pretty sure (pretty sure), that’s the point of the play. To make you realize that you watched a story, and that you loved it anyway, even though you weren’t entirely sure which parts of it were real.
To me, that’s what stories are about, and why I love them. Going out with friends and listening to Jonathon Young talk for two hours certainly doesn’t hurt, but, the stories, those things you love, forgot you loved, and then love again: that’s what I’m here for.