[Graham Percy, Jamie Konchak]
Vancouver’s Art’s Club Theatre has teamed up with Calgary’s Vertigo Theatre to present a Raymond Chandler classic, Farewell My Lovely. Considered a prototypical example of “hard boiled” fiction, Chandler “cannibalized” (a term he coined) three of his earlier short stories to spawn this novel: Try the Girl, Mandarin’s Jade, and The Man Who Liked Dogs.
The consequence is a convoluted storyline, featuring a cynical, romantic private-eye, with plenty of femme fatales, heinous yet arrogant villains and a love-struck hoodlum.
Farewell My Lovely is an exemplar for the film noir genre. Adapting the excess of intricate details and characters for a film is challenging enough, yet leave it to Vancouver-based playwright Aaron Bushkowsky to generate a refined rendition that not only pays tribute to film-noir, but is witty, edgy, and beguiling.
[Graham Percy, Lucia Frangione]
The story is narrated in the first person and here is a stitched synopsis of what he had to work with:
Act I: Try the Girl
Private detective Philip Marlowe (Graham Percy) is hired by reformed hoodlum Moose Malloy (Beau Dixon) to find his vanished girlfriend Velma, after he accidentally kills the nightclub manager, Florian while trying to elicit information. Malloy is pursued by Marlowe’s acquaintance at the LAPD, Detective Nulty (Stephen Hair). Nulty constantly pesters Marlowe for progress because he is too lazy to do the job himself.
Act II: Mandarin’s Jade
After interviewing Florian’s widow, Jessie (Lucia Frangione), Marlowe is hired by the skittish but mysterious Lindsay Marriot (Anthony F. Ingram), in a ploy to recover a stolen jade necklace. Claiming that he was working on behalf of a “friend”, Marriot is killed in the botched shady exchange but Marlowe is rescued by an alluring passerby, Anne Riordon (Emma Slipp).
Anne has searched the dead man’s body and found a card for a fortune-teller named Amthor (also Anthony F. Ingram). Furthermore, she’s discovered that the jade necklace belonged to the wealthy Mrs. Helen Grayle (Jamie Konchak). Marlowe decides to interrogate both these suspects and ends up beaten, drugged, and shot at for his troubles.
Act III: The Man Who Liked Dogs
Marlowe’s investigations eventually lead him to believe that the answers about Velma and the jade necklace can be found aboard a gambling boat. The vessel is drifting off the coastline, just out of reach of the local authorities. There is no lack of gun-play in the final concluding moments.
[Emma Slipp, Graham Percy]
Although the transparent storyline lacked consistency and cohesion, director Craig Hall’s stylistic presentation is pure alchemy. Scott Reid conjures a set that evokes old Hollywood, with harsh angled lines, a brooding green backdrop, black and white shadow-play and low mood lighting.
Versatile sliding panels and Jamie Nesbitt’s slick, imaginative projections efficiently morph the stage into any desired setting – the seedy streets of LA, the sparse office of Marlowe, an unknown backwoods, the posh Grayle residence, or a parlous gambling den.
I especially enjoyed the opening sequence when Farewell My Lovely was splashed across a panel like in old-school cinema. The driving scene was raucously clever too! The bona fide choices of costumer Deitra Kalyn contributed to the palpable appeal of all the characters.
[Emma Slipp, Graham Percy]
Rumpled, disheveled Marlowe appears just as readers had imagined in Chandler’s books; the femmes are draped in delicious body-hugging fabrics; Moose Malloy is loud and lovable in a Hawaiian shirt; the villains are sleek, crisp, and sinful.
The ambiance of this production projects the quality of a top-notch comic book. Although the situations seem contrived, the fast-paced action and absurd exchanges hook the audience from start to finish. The characters are vivid yet surreal, each with burgeoning desires that will never be fulfilled because they cannot escape their defined roles. Attempting to cast aside the hard-boiled stereotype, Percy’s Marlowe is blithesome, weary, and cynical. He drinks like a fish and wears his trousers too high, yet the damsels fall all over him.
Percy’s skillful performance flirtatiously blends with the provocative leading ladies who drive most of the action. Konchak and Percy exude irresistible chemistry onstage but their liaison is ultimately lethal. Frangione’s portrayal as a pitiful, has-been lounge singer is heartfelt and Slipp manages to remain both seductive and suspicious. Dixon uses his imposing figure as a model Moose Malloy and imbues the role with tender comedy.
Ingram’s Amthor, and a bit of Marriot, tips a gleeful nod to the style of Dr. Evil, à la Austin Powers. However, Stephen Hair easily bogarts the scenes with Nulty and Marlowe, with his effortless delivery in dialogue and gesticulations. The superb cast extract every ounce of melancholy humour and sinful passion out of Bushkowsky’s fastidious script.
The stage adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely is a lighter fare compared to its counterpart films from the 1940’s and 1970’s. This rendition is nimble, clever and mirthful, making for a very pleasurable evening at the theatre. Catch it at the Granville Island Stage before it bids farewell after May 2.
Photos by Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.