Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Theatre of Film Noir

Walker's World
by Jim Murchison
I got a message that the Algonquin College needed some feedback on a little matter that was going down at the Studio theatre. The source was solid. She's the kind of doll that when she gives you a heads up you follow up on the lead, so I decided to check it out . Past experience had told me that the theatre was in building N. I walked up to the box office and the little honey sitting there doled over the tickets. Yeah, I was in the right place alright.
I walked in and sat down. I slid into my seat as if I was sliding into a pair of old sneakers. Film Noir is a bit like cold beer, it’s always good but it’s even better when you’re thirsty for it. The problem for me is that George F Walker’s play hints at Film Noir without truly achieving it. Some of the elements are there but you don’t smell the stale coffee and cigarettes. I mean figuratively of course, because we all know that actual cigarettes are wrong, but in the 40’s cigarettes were cool.
Terry Loretto-Valentik has done a good job designing the set. It is Paris 1944. The simple apartment stage left has a large orange chair and a coat rack with the view of the Eiffel tower in the background. Oversized strips of celluloid appear to hang on the backdrop's centre stage. There is also a street lamp that characters can lean on coolly. In a graveyard, a coffin with a solitary bottle of wine on top, sit stage right. Many clock faces on the stage hint that time is running out.
Aaron Lajeunesse is Inspector Clair. He does a credible job and has some good moments, but doesn’t truly own the character in the same manner he did in his last performance in 'Dentity Crisis. Mark MacDonald  is the Nazi lover, Eric. He is the physical embodiment of the Arian ideal, but could perhaps be a little more sinister, when his true character is revealed. Maybe I am being a tad nitpicky. All in all he gives a solid performance. Austin Fogarty plays an American soldier named Hank. He does a fine job physically, but his southern drawl does not always flow easily. 
Ali Caudle as Lilliane, at 19 is the same age Lauren Bacall was in To Have and Have Not. She has that look of the young ingenue, and plays Lilliane with savvy beyond her years, particularly in the opening scene. She has the furtive eyes and restraint of the genre and the character.
Dillon Rogers as the gay communist, Bernard, is the strongest performer. He has a part that is the broadest and funniest and he takes full advantage of it. He also plays the more vulnerable aspects of Bernard with conviction so that the audience really empathizes with his character.
It is a valuable exercise for the students to do a play like this. There is a subtlety and nuance to the genre that is particularly challenging. Unfortunately neither the play, nor the production captures the full smoky, ambiance. There is a ton of intrigue and understated menace. There are also twists and sexiness, but not the innuendo or wit. It is a just little bit fake, like the onstage smoking.
Theatre of Film Noir continues to March 17
613-727-4723 ext. 5784

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