World Premiere by Tom Wood, directed by Bob Baker, starring Rebecca Northan, John Ullyatt and Julian Arnold
May 10 to June 1, 2014
Review by GRAHAM HICKS
There are delightful, hilarious, slap-stick scenes in Make Mine Love, in which interactive live-film technology plays a leading role.
But those gems are surrounded by long, laborious set-up stuff that just doesn’t quite work in the Citadel’s world premiere of its commissioned Make Mine Love, an original script written by Edmonton actor, director and playwright Tom Wood, directed by Citadel artistic director Bob Baker.
Make Mine Love is a huge undertaking, especially with an untested script, 10 actors playing 26 roles, sets with hundreds of moving parts shifting with breathtaking ease across America from Hollywood, to New York City and a train in between, all in 1938 when women were dames, everybody smoked, and wisecracks were the accepted lingo of the day.
It’s all slap-stick and fun, a tribute to a golden Hollywood era, where studios are ruled with moguls with Eastern European accents, impossible divas who survive only because they are box-office boffo, and, of course, a down-and-out hero who just can’t resist the ladies, the booze and the racetrack.
Woods’ script is, on paper, an excellent send-up on every classic theme of the era – the diva who keeps firing everybody she can fire, the charming but loser ex-husband doing everything possible, including impersonation and disguise, to get back in the diva’s good books. Every character is played as outrageously and caricature-like as possible.
Two “action” scenes will long live in the memory.
The diva (Rebecca Northan), the mogul (Julien Arnold) and the loveable loser (John Ullyatt) end up in a classic car being chased across New York City by mobsters out to kill the loser. It’s a tour de force of video effects (by Owen Brierly and Jordan Dowler-Coltman), humourous machine-gun dialogue and special effects created only by actor movement. And it’s achingly funny.
In the train scene, we watch the fall guy (Arnold again, in a different role) slipping down the outside of the illusionary fast-moving train from window to window, until his grip is gone and off he flies.
The problem is the long intervening stretches, which take up most of the second act.
In an interesting contradiction, these characters are meant to be stereotypic, so exaggerated as not meant to be believable, yet they are so unbelievable that the audience had no sympathy for them when their softer, inner personalities emerged, where sympathy ought to have been born and then flourished.
About halfway through the second act, the audience has tired of the rapid-fire, all ‘30s wisecrack dialogue. When the action moves to a mountain cabin for true love to flourish against all odds, the audience is past the point of generating much sympathy, or even care, for these characters.
Make Mine Love – a brand-new, big script with technology interactivity all over the place, big voices, big characters, frenzied action – needs split-second timing and a rhythmic underpinning that’s closely in tune with its audience.
This world premiere just hadn’t had enough rehearsal and performance time to find those rhythms – leaving the opening night show not quite ready for primetime … and Edmonton’s knowledgeable theatre audience could easily tell. What ought to be have been a rush-to-their-feet standing ovation was not.
I suspect, after a week or two of performances, that the intricate timing of this show will come together and it’ll achieve far more of its potential than was on display at Thursday’s (May 15, 2014) opening.