Starring Jonathon Young, Dawn Petten, Laura Mennell. Written by Jonathon Young, Kevin Kerr. Directed by Kim Collier. Bluma Appel Theatre, to Oct. 20.
In Tear the Curtain!, which opens Canadian Stage’s 25th season, two mobs are at war over a vacant lot in Vancouver. One faction wants to build a theatre, the other a cinema. The production itself, however, is a breathtaking example of how those two art forms can work together.
Alex Braithwaite (Jonathon Young), is a theatre critic in 1930, a time when cinema began to overtake theatre in popularity and, as he soon learns, newspaper coverage. Bored by theatre and skeptical of film, he becomes obsessed with a third movement dedicated to a defunct theatre called The Empty Space, its deceased creator, Stanley Lee, and a pouty actress named Mila Brook. Aided by his devoted secretary, Mavis (Dawn Petten), Alex falls deeper and deeper into the film noir–style mystery that unfolds through scenes that alternate between live action and film projected onto the stage.
The script by Jonathon Young and Kevin Kerr is intended to lose and confuse you over its two-and-a-half hour duration. The writers achieve this goal, but in doing so, they create an arduous experience for the audience. Still, director Kim Collier (known for the stunning visuals of 2010’s Studies in Motion) turns this muddled script into a must-see spectacle. Thanks to the seamless transitions between live and pre-recorded performances and the luxurious 1930s design from Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre, Tear the Curtain! breaks through the unruly plotline to—almost magically—captivate the audience, bringing the theories of the fictional Empty Space theatre to life.