The Mainline Theatre is the type of venue you hope to be surprised by. It’s a place where smaller productions are given a modest stage, a small audience and an intimate chance. One hopes to find a gem in it. One hopes to witness something telling and original. One hopes.
Almost Blue came dangerously close to pulling off the “surprise hit” factor that can automatically make small productions great. So close in fact that it’s hard to hand it this critique. It never really failed, but never quite succeeded either. It was as if time stood still during the performance, but a year had passed while waiting for the next second to tick by. Basically, the play’s sense of importance was searched for by all, including the performers, but was never found.
Written by Keith Reddin and directed by Carolyn Fe, Almost Blue gives Phil (Rick Bel), who’s fresh out of prison, a chance to rehabilitate and gain a much-needed sense of confidence. Crushed by the cold world found on both sides of prison bars, Phil lumbers around his stale apartment desperately introverted.
His neighbour, Mr. Blue (Patrick Goddad), comes over regularly to play cards. Blue seems to have a great affinity for Phil. Both characters have retreated from the world and struggle with their self-loathing personalities. Blue’s saving grace is prose. As a shadow writer, specializing in erotica, he has a great understanding of words, characters, themes and melodrama.
Liz (Anisa Cameron) is introduced as a lover for Phil. Shrouded in mystery; her motives for desiring Phil’s company are suspiciously unclear. In this “stage noir” production, her ruby red lipstick is part of her femme fatale persona. The connection she has to Phil hangs on her past lover, Steve (Vance de Waele), one of Phil’s prison “friends.”
She tells him Steve is dead. They become intimate, and Steve arrives.
Steve has a maniacal ego; he provides some much needed tenor to the play. “I have been in and out of penal institutions my whole life,” he says with innuendo, “spent more time in than out.”
Steve provides coy humour, tight pants and amusing aggression.
What happens afterwards is convoluted. This is where the play fails to engage the viewer – just when it needs to most. It’s not clear what goes wrong, but the script is flawed and the plot twists seem forced and desperate. Each actor plays their part well, but seems distant from the central drama.
All this said, watching their efforts to hold a modest and somewhat flawed play together is endearing. What really shone through was the love and commitment everyone had for the art of theatre. It was a beautiful example of something that almost made it. The play is bemusing for its efforts, and befuddling for its lack of clarity.
If you can love theatre even in its shortcomings, then come support the company’s well-placed ambitions. For the casual theatregoer, stick with a classic. It still beats a movie any night of the week.
Almost Blue plays at the Mainline Theatre, 3997 Blvd. St. Laurent, until Nov. 15. For tickets call 514-849-3378 or go to www.mainlinetheatre.ca. $18 each or $48 for four.