Friday, October 17, 2014

Filmed Noir - Kiss & Cry and Helen Lawrence - Theatre Reviews

Kiss & Cry - Charleroi Danses at Canadian Stage at Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - **** (out of 5 stars)
By Michèle Anne De Mey and Jaco Van Dormael
Ended Oct. 5th 2014. Continues on tour.

Helen Lawrence - Canadian Stage at Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Chris Haddock, Conceived and Directed by Stan Douglas
Runs until Nov. 2nd 2014

The first two shows in Canadian Stage's main stage season both utilize cameras on stage to film and project the live proceedings directly onto a screen, turning our live theatre experience into one of both a film experience and a live stage show. Watching them happen simultaneously is fascinating and when they dichotomy works well into the tension of the accompanying story, these new works are at its most compelling.


It takes a few moments to take in what's happening in Kiss & Cry, a "dance piece" by the Belgiam company that utilizes miniature sets and camera tricks on a set that looks like the control room of a live TV show, as the screen shows the results of their live performance of fingers, dancing on the tiny set pieces. Yes, fingers. With haunting narration, an old woman recounts the tales of her past loves, with the fingers of a woman clad in black, dancing and performing as the old woman, alongside her paramours, another pair of fingers from a man clad in black and hidden away from the cameras.

It's all quite odd and unique but slowly, the tales of lost love, heartbreak, passion and longing lures us into this faceless but emotionally compelling memory piece. All while we watch the cast manoeuvre and manipulate the various technical pieces on stage, with a laptop sitting centre stage editing it all live and playing on the screen above. Technically fascinating and yet strangely lyrical and eloquent and despite all the props and equipment on stage, the show feels very dreamlike.


In Helen Lawrence, first produced at the Arts Club in Vancouver, a scrim sits at the front of the stage with a blank blue walled stage behind it. Blue boxes sit around the stage, and several cameras on a camera track slide back and forth just within the scrim. Using instant editing, actors appear in the giant bluescreen stage as their giant faces are projected in closeup on the scrim in front of the live action, with their film image now within a CGI background. It's an interesting experiment, and with the mysterious story of Helen Lawrence and various characters just after WWII in Vancouver, it's a perfect set up for a film noir shown on screen, being created live on stage just behind the screen itself.

Watching both the live actors in action, and the resulting film noir directly projected in front of them simultaneously is quite a technical wonder, and it is even more impressive when you realize the camera angles and matching cgi backgrounds must match to make it all look believable on screen. It is live filmmaking as theatre and it's quite amazing to see.


Moments when you see different scenes happening live, together on the same stage, as they cut between scenes on the film are particularly thrilling, or when the film blacks out and we only see the preparation scene begin behind the scrim.

With all the technological impressiveness though, the story is both fascinating and problematic. The mystery follows various characters just as Helen Lawrence (Lisa Ryder) arrives into town as she tries to track down a certain Percy Wallis/Walker (Nicholas Lea) who seems to have crossed her in a different life in Los Angeles. There's are crooked cops (Greg Ellwand, Ryan Hollyman), an enterprising kingpin of the ghetto Hogan alley (Allan Louis) who may be being pushed out by his returning brother (Sterling Jarvis). There is a down-on-his-luck man (Adam Kenneth Wilson) with a beautiful German wife (Ava Jane Markus), as well as a creepy hotel manager (Hrothgar Mathews), the hotel's orphan worker (Haley McGee), a sweet prostitute (Emily Piggford) and a woman waiting for her missing husband (Crystal Balint). All the characters live amongst this noirish Vancouver as the stories intertwine with backstabbing and seduction, blackmail and violence.

It's a fun setup and the great cast have fun with the film noir speeches and cadences, but with so many characters to develop in the various plotlines, none of the story lines really have time to reach their full potential, and I wanted more about Helen Lawrence and Percy, and the great Allan Louis is so fantastic as Buddy Black, with such hints of a deeper story, especially with his relationship with (the terrific) Crystal Balint's Mary Jackson, it all seems to be cut short and rushed through so that we can get to the next plot point. The story of the unlucky Edward Banks and Ava Banks either seems too slight for such time given, or not enough for what the wonderful Adam Kenneth Wilson and Ava Jane Marcus can offer in developing a richer storyline that is hinted at, as their story gets squeezed between the corrupt cops and the fight for control of Hogan Alley.

The play is still a fun homage to the film noir genre, as it tries to squeeze all the usual suspects into a tight story. With the gimmick of the theatrical presentation as a literal background to the film noir being projected, it (physically) adds another layer to the mysteriousness of the story(ies) but the story set up might have benefitted from more time to play with and might have suited a long-form storytelling format that television has had the benefit of utilizing of late. (And considering Chris Haddock is known for the television series DaVinci's Inquest, he might have too expertly designed a story that has a better long term plan).

Photos of Helen Lawrence by David Cooper
Photo of Kiss & Cry by Maartan Vanden Abeele
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