Marion dies in the shower.
José Teodoro’s new play Mote, now playing at La Cité Francophone, is in the workshop stage, so I’m willing to give it a little rope. The first unusual item to notice is the sign reading “Balcony seating only”. The seats have been removed and the floor has become the stage. La Cité’s theatre is an unusually narrow, high space, so this change makes an interesting space even more interesting, but it limits the audience to little more than thirty seated in a single row on three sides of the action — unless the second balcony, partly used for technical tasks, were also opened to audience members willing to risk vertigo. If one is sitting on the side, much of the action will be missed unless one leans far forward over the railing, which is not a terribly severe criticism as the play is mostly words rather than actions.
The set is a minimalist black box with projections and a few pieces of furniture – chairs and tables. The projected material designed by Max Amerongen was something less varied than I had expected coming in – the white centre line flashing past representing driving, a sort of paisley shadow on the floor representing a seaside, the moon representing moonshine. But the projections were quite effective in setting scene, and, particularly in the case of the opening green squigglies, in setting the mood.
I have a suspicion that the make up design is the work of costume designer Megan Koshka, fresh off a stint as assistant costume designer on Catalyst’s Vigilante. Between Nevermore, Vigilante, and now Mote, this make up design is becoming a bit of an Edmonton signature. We need to be careful but the dark shadowed eyes and black lipstick are very effective here, making the characters seem like stark marionettes rather than agents of their own destiny. On Luc Telier, who plays Norman, the make up accentuates his more than passing resemblence to a young Klaus Kinski, notorious for playing Nosferatu. This accentuated resemblance makes Norman just a little more disturbing for audience members with a longer cinematic memory.
The performances were uniformly solid, with the melancholy singing duets of Telier and Twila MacLeod (Marion) a bit of stand-outs. Brian Dooley as Arbogast the flatfoot pursuing Marion had me spellbound during his brief, gentle telephone exchange with his young daughter from whom he’s separated by his work. The rest of the cast provide rock solid support to these leads.
A criticism I will offer is that the pacing is thrown off by Marion’s outfit changing. I realize that Hitchcock took some time with similar scenes in Psycho, but on film he was able to direct our gaze, to the suitcase, to the envelope of money. As we look down on the stage, we’re just looking at a woman changing her clothes. I’m not sure that any symbolism of changing clothes/changing character outweighs the loss in pacing.
The first part of Mote largely follows the course of the opening of Psycho, with one particular film studies student exception. As Marion and her co-worker Caroline (Andrea Rankin) kibbutz about the office, Caroline suddenly notices a fat man on the sidewalk outside the window and goes out to shoo him away. This is, of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo appearance in Mote. In Psycho, Hitchcock is outside the window, but not noticed by the characters. I have a suspicion there’s another Hitchcock cameo in the later scene in the bar between Norman and Sam (Chris Schulz), but I’ve not nailed down what film is referenced.
The second part of the play, after the lady vanishes with Norman’s help, strikes me as also a bit of a film studies student piece, with a frenzy of Hitchcock, film and Hollywood references. For example, Arbogast’s voice over mentions that Norman goes to Hollywood and hangs around on a set with Ava Gardner. Is this a reference to Hitchcock’s Norman, Anthony Perkins’ roll in On the Beach opposite Gardner and Gregory Peck? Norman’s repressed homosexuality is presented without a shadow of a doubt but perhaps with less exploration than would be ideal. I worry that reference may be overshadowing exploration.
In the end, Mote is most interesting and very enthralling and original, but I can’t help thinking it needs tightening. That, of course, is the point of workshopping.
Mote, by José Teodoro, directed by Wayne Paquette, is playing at La Cité Francophone in Edmonton until May 17.
As a sidenote, it was so nice to finally meet (my #yeggie nominee) Jenna Marynowski in real life last night at Mote. I’m looking forward to reading her take after seeing the play – which I’m sure will show up soon at After the House Lights.