Review: Tear The Curtain – pushing the boundaries of conventional theatre

Vancouver’s Stanley Theatre was transformed last night into its dual historical personality, as both a venue for film and theatre, in a surreal production of Tear the Curtain from the Arts Club and Electric Company Theatre.

Not ones to shy away from producing works that push the boundaries of conventional theatre (having produced the critically acclaimed The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge last year), Electric Company Theatre has gone itself one step further combining theatre and film in a clever, albeit somewhat confusing, re-imagined history of the Stanley Theatre.

The action moves almost seamlessly from movie screen to the actors on stage and vice-versa, with the story continuing from one medium to another.  This transition happens dozens of times throughout the almost three hour show (including intermission) as actors, as an example, might enter a room on stage to have the action continue on pre-recorded film scenes projected on the set or on a large movie screen.  At times, actors on stage also mimic what is happening in the film.

At its base level, Tear The Curtain tells of the battle for audiences between theatre and the cinema.  This “battle” is told quite literally through opposing criminal mobs that control the theatre and the cinemas in 1930s Vancouver.  Caught in the middle is theatre critic Alex Braithwaite (Jonathon Young) who finds himself fighting against both factions as he gradually descends into cascading depths of what appears to be his own existentialism.

Tear The Curtain
Jonathon Young, Laura Mennell (on screen), Dawn Petten, Scott Bellis in Tear the Curtain! Photo by David Cooper.

I must admit that several times, just when I thought I had a handle on things, we were presented with another curve ball that had me doubting my interpretation of what just happened.  Ironically, at one point Braithwaite yells out “I don’t understand” to both laughter and much head nodding from the audience, me included.  I suppose that while that may have been the point to some degree, I did find myself becoming increasingly frustrated and by the end of the evening was somewhat unsatisfied in my own ability to understand.

Technically Tear The Curtain is a marvel, the acting top-notch, the film sequences of a caliber worthy of any Hollywood production and as an overall theatre experience, it is nothing that I have seen before.

But to paraphrase one of the characters last night: “I want a story, with the ideas”.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars Tear The Curtain
Arts Club Stanley Theatre
Now through 10 October 2010

Tickets are available online or by calling the Arts Club box office at 604.687.1644.

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