Vancouver East Cultural Centre
It's All True
by Jason Sherman Directed by Katrina Dunn
"That was wicked." "A really good show." "The best play I've seen in a long time." These are some comments heard on opening night of Touchstone Theatre's production of It's All True by Jason Sherman at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
This high-action play is packed with politics, romance, anger, sentiment, conflict, humour, and sexuality.
The action is drawn from a real-life moment in theatre history. It's the late 1930's. Orson Welles is directing The Cradle Will Rock by Marxist composer Marc Blitzstein. On hearing of the pro-union bias of this publicly funded musical, the authorities padlock the theatre on opening night. What follows is a cacophony of voices struggling to be heard as they (and we) attempt to distinguish between illusion and reality.
The cast performs consistently well. Dawn Patten as Olive Stanton is oh-so-slightly over the top. Her scenes with Jonathon Young as Howard Da Silva are poignantly funny. Linda Quibell switches seamlessly between her parts as the jaded Mrs Virginia Welles and the long-suffering stage manager, Jean Rosenthal. Moya O'Connell as Eva Goldbeck, Blitzenstein's dead wife, brings an ethereal beauty to her performance. The women have stereotypical, passive roles. It's the men who have the active voices and who get the more philosophical lines.
Young Orson Welles is played lustily by Paul Moniz de Sa and is full of turgid language as he bombastically announces, "I put on little plays which help me understand."
Sprightly Donald Adams as John Houseman, playing the somewhat petulant co-producer of The Cradle Will Rock, continuously tries to pull the people and the action of the play together.
The tortured character of Marc Blitzstein, haunted by the ghost of his dead wife, Eva, is played by lanky Jeff Meadows to near perfection.
Jonathon Young plays the only unambiguously heterosexual male and leading actor in the play within a play. He brings to his part a frenetic energy with touches of compassion and understanding. His character relentlessly upholds the position of political justice for working men and women.
Under Katrina Dunn's direction, the dialogue is crisp and the action moves swiftly, for the most part. A few minutes could be shaved off the long first half of the program as the final scene looses its momentum towards the interval.
"I have an idea", are the four words cast members dread hearing the director say." One of the director's ideas, using the same props as mirrors/screens/dividers, might have been a good one. Unfortunately, its overuse distracts from the dialogue and action at times. The idea to play some scenes up on the balcony really flops as the actors and their actions are obscured from at least a quarter of the audience seated below.
Ms Dunn's most effectively directed scenes are those in which the action is splashed across the stage like bolts of lightning in a troubled world.
Jason Sherman is one of Canada's hottest young playwrights. He writes on topics that speak to him. In this play, he shines a spotlight on the troubled world of the 1930s blending religious overtones, political insights, and raw sexuality with more than a pinch of wry humour. Mr Sherman's themes of artistic licence, political censorship, and self-destruction are as real today as they were more than 60 years ago.
As my 83-year old mother said, attending her first opening night, "It's sometimes hard to tell which is the play and which is real life." Mum, It's All True. Even the seasoned theatre critics agreed with their standing ovation and the audience applauded enthusiastically.
The play runs until November 13. I highly recommend it. It's a really good show.