Robert Salvador, Amitai Marmorstein

You receive your first clue that you’re in for a extraordinary experience upon receipt of the program for The Only Animal’s production of Nothing But Sky. Rather than the traditional format we take for granted, we are handed what, at first glance, appears to be a comic book. Opening it we quickly see that we are being introduced to cast and crew as a graphic novel of sorts. Ha!
The story unfolds with young, scared, bookish, physically slight, teenage illustrator Joe Shuster (Amitai Marmorstein) running away from an anticipated beating. Pre-WWII America was not friendly to immigrants and was especially unkind to those with Jewish heritage; Joe has frequently been on the receiving end of bullying. When he can run no further he turtles to receive whatever the abuse he believes will be forthcoming.

Happily his pursuer is a schoolyard acquaintance, Jerry Siegel (Robert Salvador), who is full of ideas but short on talent. Jerry has determined he needs Joe to bring his stories to life. Jerry, a burly extrovert, is a very attractive alter-ego to Joe and together they bond almost immediately and team up to pursue a career developing a marketable comic book hero. 

When months of editorial rejection turn into years, the boys get lucky when they develop an idea of a super man. They become luckier still when brash young model Joanne Kovacs (Dawn Petten) enters their life. Joanne is the type of adventurous tough-talking dame that the boys haven’t known but quickly appreciate. She breathes life into the Lois Lane character and together the super man quickly evolves into the Superman we still enjoy today.

Robert Salvador, Amitai Marmorstein

The first act celebrates the boys success and forebodes key elements of their fall. 
As interesting as the story line is, it really is the staging that makes the production super special. Two chairs and a desk simulate an uninked drawing. A very clever functional background of sliding panels adds a sense of movement and vibrancy as the actors manipulate the set to create the various scenarios required to move the story along. 
Where the production takes us to a whole other level is through the innovative use of interactive video projections, some static but mostly animated. If you can remember Disney’s Mary Poppins you can kind of get a feel for what is possible when media formats mash-up in unexpected ways.
The technical elements of the show are superb. Director/Writer Kendra Fanconi has assembled many extremely talented folks to bring her story to life. The 40’s ambience is recreated through the subtle use of then-current tunes (Eric Rhys Miller) and costumes (Christine Reimer). Keith Murray’s video and art direction is, as could be hoped for, simply super. Special acknowledgement has to be given to illustrators Paul Dutton, Maziar Mehrabi, Danielle Marlene Gotell, and Samantha Tang – they made magic. Their very brief homage to the Wham-Pow-Zowie of 1960’s Batman was a most welcome and clever surprise.
The second act is much more somber in spirit and in tone as the boys, now mature men, are moved to the sidelines by their publisher as their talent and bodies begin to decline. Their venture into a new socially conscious Funny Man comic fails miserably and they become basically unemployable. Reflecting real life events, there is a hopeful but not a happy ending to the piece. 

Dawn Petten, Robert Salvador Robert Salvador
[Dawn Petten, Robert Salvador]
All actors were adroit and convincing in their roles. Dawn Petten was terrific throughout but nowhere better than when bringing Lois Lane alive. Mr. Salvador’s Jerry was spot on as man moving from top dog to underdog. I especially liked how he changed his physicality and demeanor as he grew old and weary. His character for the most part was unlikeable but I felt a ton of sympathy for it. 

Amitai Marmorstein (as Joe) had, I think, the hardest characterization to pull off. Joe was barely likable to start out with and each scene leading up to his final phase as a self-pitying sleazy fetish illustrator made me all the less interested in him. I’m thinking that it is a strong actor who can sway me to the extent that I bought his performance.
After the show, two friends and I chatted about we had just seen. It’s a measure of how much we enjoyed and respected this production that the only weak link we agreed on was the title. Perhaps a sub-title referencing Superman would create enough buzz to fill the theatre.
Nothing But Sky runs through March 2 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. Photos by Michael Sider.

About Our Contributor Larry Ghini

Larry Ghini

Larry Ghini enjoys Vancouver's vibrant theatre scene and has taken in many productions over the years. He holds a BA in Sociology from Simon Fraser University. Larry is financially involved with the film Eadweard Muybridge, produced by Josh Epstein, directed by Kyle Rideout, and starring Michael Eklund.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.