Conversations
Tuesday July 25, 2017

 

Envelope on the Money - We've often heard it said that money is the root of all evil. It's also the great equalizer.

the-envelope

 
by Deborah Rankin

We've often heard it said that money is the root of all evil. It's also the great equalizer. Michael Moretti (Ron Lea), a local theatre director and playwright who wants to break into films, has found this out the hard way. And he's going to have to decide whether to bridge that great divide when an old buddy comes back into town to make him an offer he can't refuse. Or maybe not.

Jake Henry Smith (David Gow), a Canadian film producer, wants to make amends for screwing Moretti out of a film deal years ago. Now Smith wants to make a movie based on one of Michael's plays - courtesy of taxpayers who fund Canada's creative class - but will his estranged friend take the bait this time?

This is the central premise of The Envelope, a comedy playing at the Centaur Theatre until April 19. Written and directed by Vittorio Rossi, who is recognized as the inaugural Italo-Canadian voice of the English-Canadian stage, this two-act play takes a behind-the-scenes look at the often fractious relationship between theatre and films, while exploring the age-old tension between art and enterprise. Along the way, Rossi gets to play ventriloquist, venting his frustrations about the Canadian film industry through his dummies - oops! - I mean characters - about what ails the movie biz north of the 49th parallel. This is something that could fall under the category of 'too much information' - a learning curve for theatregoers who can now view Canadian films - to the extent that they are even watched, as Moretti would say, heaping on scorn - through a more critical lens.

In fairness to the Canadian film industry, it creates thousands of jobs for people in all kinds of professions and trades. But all defence of CanCult aside, the laughs make this insider-view worth the carping that runs through the play's 120 minutes, plus intermission.

Michael and his troupe of actors like to hang out at a local Italian restaurant owned by Franco Maldini (Tony Calabretta) pretty much every chance they get: before and after rehearsals, before and after the show, drinking and talking shop, eating and talking shop or, outside on the terrace, taking it easy and talking shop. (In real life, Da Franco's Restaurant, located near the Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal, has taken out an ad in the playbill saying,"Featured in Vittorio Rossi's "The Envelope", come discover why it has become one of his favourite Italian restaurants." Well, damned if life really doesn't imitate art and vice versa!)

Franco provides food, liquor and advice free of charge to the bunch because his cousin Marcello Maldini (Guido Cocomello) is one of the actors in Michael's latest play. Franco doubles as a waiter, dutifully schlepping coffee when Michael calls out for an espresso "baptized". (Here's a fascinating factoid for those who aren't coffee aficionados: the expression "baptized coffee" dates back to the 16th century when some in ecclesiastically high places regarded drinking coffee as evil because Muslins living in the Middle East drank the black brew. However, Pope Clement VIII redeemed the practice for Catholic Christians so they could savour drinking - without guilt - a delicious cup of joe when he proclaimed, "The Devil's drink is so good, we should cheat the Devil by baptizing it!")

Marcello has come back from L.A. to appear in his old bro's latest play, both out of loyalty and because he believes in Michael's creative vision, but also because there is something in it for him. Precisely because the two go way back, Marcello feels entitled to speak his mind freely and he's not liking the sweet deal that Jake is trying to put together that requires Michael sign off on it ASAP - not one bit. Jake's cocky swagger and dismissive view of Michael's option to do an Indie film in the U.S. gets under Marcello's skin. He can't resist taunting Jake and demands to know why he makes "stupid films".   

Franco continually affirms how much he loves Marcello - "like a brother" - while alternately threatening to "give (him) such a beating" if he doesn't smarten up, highlighting the love/hate relationship that characterizes so many families. His feelings about the acting crowd mirror those for his cousin: he repeatedly reminds them of what losers they are, but actively supports their creative work. True-to-form, and like any hands-on restaurateur, he hops between the bar, dining room, and kitchen, at one point managing to carry on a detailed conversation on the telephone with his wife about what colour of dress to wear to the opening of the new play.     

Michael's dilemma starts to become all too real when he and Jake meet with a bureaucrat from the Canadian agency that funds film production to discuss the prospect of turning his play into a film. The director discovers that the charming, Grappa-swilling Sarah Mackenzie (Leni Parker) is grappling with her own inner demons too. She may have fine-tuned the art of success, parlaying business acumen into a lucrative career by selecting which scripts to fund for production and which to ditch, but somewhere along the way she has lost her own artistic vision. Heck, somebody has to set a Bad Example, a country song used to comic effect as part of the soundtrack, suggesting that a number of the characters have gone off track.

Franco functions as Michael's conscience, reminding him that he never would have sold out to the cinematic dream factory back in the day when the young playwright wrote true-to-life stories about their hard-working immigrant fathers who built a good life for themselves and their families without compromising their integrity. He wonders aloud what the difference is between the construction industry and film making in Canada, or why there is no equivalent of the "Charbonneau Commission" to enquire into unfair practices in the latter.

The restaurant is a hub of social intrigue for the actors as well who have their own internal crises playing out against the backdrop of the question that is hanging in the air. Andrew Morgan (Shawn Campbell) is a father figure to fellow actors Marcello and Caroline Lemay (Melanie Sirois), at once disapproving of their tryst that is sabotaging the production, while exhorting them to be professionals and not to let any uncertainties cloud their perspectives about what they have to do.

Andrew is a thespian snob, par excellence, and Campbell plays the part to perfection of the Shakespearean actor who has been forced out of economic necessity to humble himself and take a bit part as Detective #5 in a cop drama with a formulaic plot. All of the actors acquit their roles respectably, with Calabretta filling the shoes of restaurant proprietor Franco so well that he could be the real deal.

The set is realistic and could be the dining room of an actual restaurant. Since all of the action takes place in or just outside the restaurant, the no-frills comfortable decor and moderate lighting works fine.

Rossi could have made a few changes to the script to better illustrate the state-of-mind of some characters and to draw out certain relationships, but to say what these might have been would give away the plot. All in all, it's a good offering from Montreal's own multi-talented actor, writer, and director.

 

Last Night at the Gayete

last-night-gayete-intro


By Deborah Rankin

The Centaur Theatre's 2015-2016 season is drawing to a close with its final production of Last Night at the Gayety, a musical comedy by Bowser & Blue which runs until May 22nd.

Read more

 

Twitter response: "Invalid or expired token."

Paul Donovan walks the Camino Ignatiano

Follow former Loyola High School principal, Paul Donovan, as he walks the famous 700km Camino Ignatiano.

camino-ignatiano-map

 

Read his blog

ESCC


2005 St-Marc
Montreal, Qc.
H3H 2G8
Tel: 514.937.2301, ext #252, 256
Fax: 514.907.5010
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
website

VILLE MARIE ONLINE

About us

Support us

Advertise with us

Privacy and security

Logon with social media

vmo donate