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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Theatre review: Farewell, My Lovely is handsome but uninvolving

Farewell, My Lovely, published in 1940, was Raymond Chandler’s second novel to feature his private detective Phillip Marlowe.It was subsequently adapted into three movies, most notably with Robert Mitchum in 1975. More recently, award-winning Vancouver writer Aaron Bushkowsky secured the rights to adapt the novel for the stage.

Craig Hall directs this handsome co-production between the Arts Club and Calgary’s Vertigo Theatre.  With a suitable film noir sensibility, the set and lighting design by Scott Reid is stylish and 1940’s grand. There are filmed projections by Jamie Nesbitt used to create great memory montages, not unlike those you might see in a movie version. The costumes by Deitra Kalyn are nicely detailed.

The challenge in adapting film noir though is in the “thin lines”, where one side is mysterious and the other vague, where there is cool exterior and then there is distant and un-engaging. There is high-stakes moxie and there is ho-hum.  That ‘thin line’ is readily noticeable in Dewi Wood’s soundtrack, which is filled with danger, excitement and drama, but while it creates the necessary feel, it also clashes at times with the scenes before and after.

Some of the actors are having great fun with the material. Anthony F. Ingram plays two characters and brings dynamic vitality to both of them. All three of the women are also great fun as stock characters from the film noir genre. Luica Frangione as the boozy woman who knows too much, Emma Slip as a brassy policeman’s daughter determined to help, and Jamie Konchak as the playful seductress.

The clichés of film noir are cynical attitudes, sexual tension, with rough desperate characters and danger around every corner. There is usually lots of shadows and smoke in these melodramatic stories, making it easy to surprise or seduce a stranger. What starts as a simple caper, gets more complicated with duplicitous characters and unexpected death.

In this production though, while all the pieces are there, the overall feeling of the play is low key and uninvolving. That might be okay if you are lying on the couch watching an old film while eating chips, but when you go out to see live theatre you want something more.

Farewell, My Lovely by Aaron  Bushkowsky. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. Directed by Craigh Hall. An Arts Club Theatre Company and Vertigo Theatre, Calgary co-production. On stage at the Granville Island Stage (1601 Johnston St, Vancouver) until May 2. Visit for tickets and information.

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