THE OVERCOAT at the Vancouver Playhouse


By Violetta Lapinski

The Overcoat
conceived and directed by
Morris Panych and Wendy Gorling
based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol
Now Playing at the Vancouver Playhouse
Until November 15th, 1997
Tickets: 873-3311

Can silence be exciting? Can it make you laugh?

Fittingly timed on the tailcoat of the Vancouver Film Festival, The Overcoat carries the poignancy and power of silent film one step further. The Overcoat is a stunning architectural pantomime presented by The Vancouver Playhouse in collaboration with Studio 58. Written by 19th century Ukrainian author Nikolai Gogol, The Overcoat is a short story focusing on a humble serf, Akakii Akakievich, toiling as an architect at a thankless corporation leading a mundane existence. His perception of life turns inside out when he procures an elegant new overcoat.

Creators/Directors Morris Panych and Wendy Gorling have eloquently woven an enrapturing live theatre experience like no other, deftly fusing music, mime and visual alacrity without words. Panych is a critically acclaimed Vancouver playwright with numerous awards to his credit, including a Governor General's Literary Award for his play The Ends of the Earth and a 1996 Jessie for Vigil, which won fort Best New Play. Gorling has won Jessies for acting and choreographing movment. Her experttise lies in physical theatre, mime and mask and she continues teaching physical theatre at Studio 58, where she has done so for 19 years. This strong team effort shines in its deliverance of The Overcoat.

Seventees scenes, two acts, not a moment of boredom. The careful and rich arrangement of colours, sounds, music, costume, light and machine art sets only enhance the seemingly effortless and brilliant performances by the actors. Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich ribbons his musical score through and around the actors and their palette, engineering emotions and movement.

The talented cast of 22 ebb and flow from scene to scene, stealthily swirling between time, tempo and tangents. Lead by Peter Anderson as The Man, Attila Clemann, Judi Closkey, Dean Paul Gibson, Peter Grier, Colin Heath, Cynci Mason, Allan Morgan, Wendy Noel, Michael P. Northey, Kurt Max Runte, Mike Stack and 10 Langara College Studio 58 students--Brent Cook, Jennifer Hill, Jennie-Rebecca Hogan, Blair Keyzer, Paul Moniz de Sa, Leanna Nash, Courtenay J. Stevens, Brahm Taylor, Craig Veroni, and Christine Wach demand attention. Humour and sensitivity are projected through exaggerated facial expressions and synchronized body movements.

275 props mirror scenes from The Man with a Movie Camera, a 1929 Russian silent film shown at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival and Madonna's rock video, Express Yourself. The forceful use of lighting, cog machinery, wheels, circles, human labour, and the rise and fall of humanity in a 19th century metropolis depicts similarities in today's highly technological and industrialized cities. Lighting designer Alan Brodie effectively incorporates a dramatic sense of style, conveying seasons, emotions, temperature, toil and passion.

This delightful work is an artfully crafted experimental medium that will appeal to everyone.