by Lynn on October 12, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, Oct. 12, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM TEAR THE CURTAIN! at the Bluma Appel Theatre until Oct. 20 and BLOODLESS: The Trial of Burke and Hare at the Panasonic Theatre until Oct. 28.

The host was Rose Palmieri.

1) Good Friday morning, it’s theatre time with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn. What do you have for us today?


Hi Rose. I’ve got two really intriguing shows. The first is TEAR THE CURTAIN! a co-production by the stellar ELECTRIC COMPANY and Canadian Stage Company.

And the other is BLOODLESS, The Trial of Burke and Hare. This is the inaugural production of the musical company Theatre 20, a company composed of some of our finest musical theatre artists.

2) Ok, let’s start with TEAR THE CURTAIN! What’s it about?

TEAR THE CURTAIN! is director/creator Kim Collier’s latest vivid, imagistic, startling creation. This time she explores the worlds of theatre and film, reality vs imagination, the subconscious, chaos, randomness, intimacy and distance, to name a few.

It’s the 1920s in Vancouver. The goings on are seen through the eyes of Alex Braithwaite, who says he’s a very important theatre critic. Although local. He goes to see a play and is smitten with the leading lady, Mila Brook and goes to the cast party to meet her. I don’t know about Alex’s code of ethics but going to cast parties after the opening night he is supposed to review, to meet the stars is a no-no.

He’s struck by the whole question of is Mila more real on stage or off? On his way home Alex meets a man in the park who reminds him of a theatre artist from years before whose theatre, the Empty Space, and his ideas affected Alex profoundly. He becomes transfixed on the idea of the man and his theatre. Questions of unlocking the subconscious are posed.

There is wrangling over property between two gangs, one controls the cinemas and the other controls the playhouses and they both want to build on that land. Alex decides to write a huge think piece on the Empty Space and all it stood for. We are led to believe that the article caused a huge sensation in the press and with the public. Alex gets more mired in this confusion of what is real and what is Memorex until he finally settles and goes to the movies with his girlfriend Mavis to watch Lillian Gish in her first talky.

3) Well I’m intrigued when you use words like ‘vivid’ and startling’ to describe the production. Does that mean that it’s a success?

Tricky. All the techno stuff is dazzling. With nods to Laterna Magica and Emma Rice and her Kneehigh Theater production of Brief Encounter, Collier blends theatre with film in which characters on stage dissolve into the film projected large behind and around the stage.

We see Alex on stage. A screen comes down with the film of Alex in the same setting, only in the film. So we fluctuate between watching a play and a film. Are we in a play? A film? Both? Which begs the question why? Why are we watching both a play and a film in the same place? I don’t believe that theatre and film vie with each other for audiences because these forms are different.

I love the cleverness of Tear the Curtain! In the first scene we are watching a film of Alex sitting in a theatre watching a play. In the last scene, Alex and Mavis sit in the front row of our theatre, watching the film of Lillian Gish in her first talking role. Mavis says with great excitement something line: “Oh there she really is” when looking at the celluloid Lillian Gish there on the screen. Thus in a way negating Alex’s thesis of what is real or not.

Once again in a Collier creation, story does not seem as important as the theatrical effect. Writers Jonathan Young and Kevin Kerr substitute story and character for frequent incomprehensible musings, usually from Alex. The script is a jumble of esoteric navel-gazing pretentiousness.

4) Don’t you believe Alex as a character?

No because he hasn’t been fully written as one. He and others are written like stereotypes—the grimacing critic, bored before the play starts. He’s always drinking either from a flask or from a glass. Why does he drink? We don’t know and we should.

Does he like the theatre? We don’t know and we should. He says he’s a famous critic. One wonders in what fantasy land he holds this august position—perhaps he’s a legend in his own mind.

The program note from the creators say: “Live theatre keeps us at a distance but reveals to us our vulnerability our very humanness.”


It’s theatre like this, with lots of techno stuff to distract us, and underdeveloped characters we can’t identify with, that keeps us at a distance. So for me TEAR THE CURTAIN! is clever, technically dazzling, but hollow at its heart.

5) I think that’s a natural segue to BLOODLESS: The Trial of Burke and Hare. There’s a lot of buzz about this show. Why?

First of all it’s the inaugural show of a fearless company called Theatre 20, composed of some of our finest musical theatre artists. They want to do musical theatre; don’t have the opportunities they want so they formed a company, three years ago, to create their own work and their own luck.

BLOODLESS: The Trial of Burk and Hare is an original musical written and composed by Joseph Aragon.

It started as a fringe show in Winnipeg—was expanded and is now the first production of this spunky new company.

6) And what’s the story of Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare?

It takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1824. William Burke and William Hare are lowly labourers and can’t really make a living. But by accident they find a way. Mrs. Hare runs a rooming house. Mr. Hare discovers that one of the tenants is dead in his room. Hare’s friend William Burke knows that the local medical school will pay for fresh cadavers as long as there are no marks on it. So they sell the cadaver to Dr. Robert Knox a noted lecturer in anatomy and don’t tell Mrs. Hare.

Easy money and an idea. Pretty soon Burke and Hare are making good money killing and selling the corpses to the Doctor. But Burke gets flashy with his money. Hare gets disillusioned.

The show is played out against their trial, so it’s no surprise that they get caught. It’s how things unfold that is the hook.

7) How is it as a musical?

It certainly is an interesting story. Composer Joseph Aragon’s first song sets up the tone and the thrust of the piece. His music has melody and sweep. But it is also very reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim and Gilbert and Sullivan to name just two. And I couldn’t help but think that Aragon has bloated the piece with endless songs. Almost every character has a song and often they don’t need one because they are sung by a character that isn’t established yet.

The show is two hours and 10 minutes long. It should be a tight, trim 90 minutes with fewer songs. The lyrics are very sophisticated. The problem is that the characters who sing them aren’t. It’s the composer-lyricist showing off, not the characters who are expressing themselves.

As for Aragon’s writing, some revelations in Act II make no sense because they aren’t developed beforehand. Suddenly we are told that one character is really in love with Burke, but nothing sets that up beforehand.

It’s directed with flare and urgency by Adam Brazer—a founding member of Theatre 20 and its Artistic Director. But on the whole the pace is so relentlessness as to be overwhelming. So often the cast came forward to yell their displeasure with the world, the system and all manner of things, besides these disappearing people, that I thought the story ran out of gas before the show finished. Toning down the sound, and fixing the sound system might help. And I wish it had a list of songs in the program.

The cast is very strong. As Burke, Evan Buliung is crafty, wily, rough and charming. As Hare, Eddie Glen is initially devilish, but then fretful, and morally centered. As Mrs. Hare, Jan Alexandra Smith, is multi-faceted, hard, and eventually won over to the dark side. As Janet Brown, a prostitute, Carly Street is impassioned and compelling, as are they all.

I think this musical needs another going over. Cut some songs. Tighten the book. Be aware that if a character isn’t sophisticated then he/she shouldn’t be singing sophisticated songs with internal rhyming for example.

Theatre 20 is hugely talented and they deserve our support. I wish I had better things to say about this show.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

TEAR THE CURTAIN! plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until Oct. 20.

BLOODLESS: The Trial of Burke and Hare plays at the Panasonic Theatre until Oct. 28.

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