They are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time: after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.
—Hamlet, Act II, Sc. II
Celebrating a loved one, whose body is not yet cold, with friends and family is expectedly fraught with anguish, emotion and recollection. If the majority of those grieving in a sprawling country house with the casket a stone’s throw from the dining-room table are actors, the drama must increase, methinks.
As crafted through director/co-writer (along with Krista Sutton) Penelope Buitenhuis’ extraordinarily vivid imagination and their cast's improvised dialogue, the litany of truths and false fronts from all parties had the early promise of producing an extraordinary yarn, but a tsunami of predictable twists and overdone coincidence drowned the outcome as surely as the family plot gained another lodger.
Known womanizer, revered stage director Gabor Zazlov (Nicholas Campbell) gave his devoted wife, Hannah (Tara Nicodemo) explicit instructions should his failing health (a heart attack survivor) send the revered Shakespeare specialist—“people come to the theatre to see your truth”—to heaven’s thrust stage.
Miraculously, the entire guest list makes the sudden pilgrimage to the beautifully captured southwestern Ontario countryside and pay their respects to the closed casket that, in one way or another, changed their lives forever.
From a struggling Hollywood career comes Tyler (Graham Abbey, a decidedly quick-study whether being rolled in the hay, or contemplating instant fatherhood of the most ironic kind). Sporting a mouth most foul, coke-infested nostrils and a bust that enters the room before she does, Danielle (Sarain Boylan makes a valiant attempt at the rollercoaster characterization which has so many undulations that who or what she really is must remain as mysterious as the untimely demise of her former tormenter) enlivens the proceedings to the point of over-the-top distraction.
Playing a very pastel queer card, the former Hamlet in Gabor’s unfinished production of perhaps the Bard’s most tortured hero, comes Raj (a fully-formed performance by Raoul Bhaneja who does everything he’s asked with sincerity and style). Eschewing the boards for a fatherless baby boy, frequent meditation and a job working with “at-risk” youth is Maya (Sutton is the best of the bunch in living her previous role—Ophelia—in her reborn life).
Sabina, the dour-sour former chairman of the theatre company’s board is done to a turn (and wears a delicious post-coital blush after her moment to portray Mrs. Robinson in the shadow of her former idol) by Martha Burns.
The uninvited guest is Chad—Gabor’s long-lost son and heir, who just happens to show up without script or cue as the rest assemble to remember Gabor. Kristopher Turner demonstrates great depth and range, even as his potential rape scene appears out of ear shot in virtually the same setting where those on the first floor, hours earlier, could repeat the dialogue of the combatants on the second.
Despite an effective score from Aaron Davis—piano and string-rich—and a brief but beautiful rendering of Fauré’s haunting Pavane courtesy of the Daniel and Carey Domb, the writing proved too ambitious. The play-within-the-play conceit on its own could have focussed the drama and truth-telling to a fever pitch. But coupling that device with “toilet cam” technique (the assemblage were invited to share their private, singular thoughts about Gabor before a mounted camera in the loo) provided welcome visual variety even as it severely strained the credibility envelope. Little bits, such as Hannah offering to wash Chad’s dirty laundry, threatened to shift the proceedings into the world of farce.
The final “surprise” exacted few gasps of wonder from the gala-night crowd (although to be fair, many of those present were not “virgin” to the film) and begged the question as to why a mightily transformed son wouldn’t stick around to see his fabled dad laid to rest. Perhaps the quote above might shed some light there too. JWR
The Audit, 7 min.
Prior to the feature, Karen Hines filled the screen almost exclusively with her ever-expressive face and tackled an impressive number of social issues in just seven minutes. Apparently pillorying charitable organizations which provide overseas child adoption for cash, Canada Revenue Agency audit requirements and well-meaning (but oh-so-busy) do-gooders, the crowd laughed far too many times for collective comfort. No matter, Greg Morrison’s piano score (which finally found its way to a Satie-esque hue in the credits after a more, appropriately dissonant undercurrent during the monologue) was a huge plus. The haunting image of a takeout coffee cup leaking blood then reflecting the declaimer will not dissolve to black anytime soon. JWR