A few months ago I met noted Montreal playwright Vittorio Rossi for the first time when I invited him back to speak at his old high school, James Lyng in St. Henri. He is a wonderful role model and provided the present-day students with a lot of inspiration, so much so that a Grade 11 English class joined me at the Centaur Theatre for an April 8 matinee to see the new Rossi comedy-drama called The Envelope.
There were also students on hand from FACE School and a private French school. How would they relate to a play focused on the complex Canadian film industry? The Envelope is a fabulous piece of work and judging by their laughs and the standing ovation at the end, it is clear the students really appreciated it. Teachers I spoke to gave it a big thumbs up,
The storyline revolves around some excited actors and two producers gathered in a local Italian restaurant meant to clone Da Franco’s, which is located just around the corner from the Centaur in Old Montreal. Kudos to set and costume design boss Evita Karasek for creating a true replica of the real restaurant. From the bar to the tables and even the front door, it is bang on as lead characters Michael Moretti (Ron Lea) and Jake Henry Smith (David Gow) engage in a hard-nosed negotiation for the film rights to the former’s new play. Moretti finds himself torn between an L.A. indie filmmaker with little cash to spare and Smith dangling a tempting multi-million dollar “envelope” from the Canadian Federal Film Fund. Does he choose ambition over loyalty and money over art? One thing for sure – this play does not paint a flattering picture of the Canadian film industry.
|The cast of The Envelope in a scene at Da Franco's (photo A. Lanthier)|
During the audience talkback after the show I asked the performers if a movie version of The Envelope was possible. “That has already been put in motion,” said Lea.
Tony Calabretta is superb as Franco, the wise-cracking Italian restaurateur whose cousin the actor, Marcello, is played by actor/stand-up comedian, Guido Cocomello. Shawn Campbell plays Andrew, a character actor who has weathered many an opening night jitter, and no film story would be complete without an ingénue poised for her big break and Mélanie Sirois, as the bright-eyed Caroline, makes her Centaur debut. Leni Parker, 2014 META-winner for Best Actress plays Sarah, the Canadian National Movie Fund’s head of script development in the midst of a career crisis.
This small cast has excellent chemistry. While there is a fair amount of profanity in the script, it all falls out in a very realistic fashion. When anger sets in, I suppose there is no reason to pretend these people would be reciting niceties. None of the students seemed turned off by it, nor were the teachers particularly concerned.
Says the Moretti Character: “There are two things I detest in this country. […] One is winter.
The other is a Canadian film producer. I’ve learned to cope with winter but I will never trust a Canadian film producer.”
The Centaur’s Artistic and Executive Director, Roy Surette, had this to say:“Vittorio captures this city and its people so beautifully. Audiences will definitely recognize a theatre located in Old Montreal around the corner from a family-owned Italian restaurant and get a kick out of the behind-the-scenes take on getting a play to opening night … a font of entertaining material there! But the main attraction is the inside scoop at how Canadian films are produced. Ambition, back room deals, egos and eccentric characters abound amid the lure of big money versus creative integrity. Who could resist such tantalizing theatrical treats?”
Rossi, an advocate of ‘write what you know’, drew heavily from his own experiences for the script. “On five different occasions I was approached to either write a screenplay or adapt one of my own plays,” he says. “Each and every time the projects got lost in ‘development hell.’ With these producers, never once did I feel like I was working with a creative partner. But as a result of all this, I raised the money, shot my film in five days, and gained a whole new skill set. It was a great learning experience and immensely gratifying.”
The show runs through April 19 (Mondays are dark). If you are looking for some great entertainment and a refreshing piece of theatre then log on to http://www.centaurtheatre.com/theenvelope.php or call (514) 288-3161. Check out the video preview here.