Starlets and gangsters, mink coats and fedoras: the world may have been in an economic slump and on the brink of global war, but the 1930s were also Hollywood’s heyday. The Citadel’s season ender is an homage to the silver screen’s glory days—and the world première of an Edmonton original: Tom Wood’s Make Mine Love.
The show opens with a monologue delivered by a stooped choreographer reminiscing about the good ol’ days: his memories appear first as flitting projections across a jigsaw of draped sheeting, and then become flesh as the characters step out from behind the veil. It’s admittedly somewhat of a hackneyed (but pretty) narrative device, and then the show hurtles forward into pure screwball comedy: we meet washed-up Broadway icon Hale Lane (John Ullyatt) after he has gambled, drank and womanized his way into an alleyway beating by a couple of thugs. He soon runs into his ex-wife and veteran film star Lily Arlen (Rebecca Northan), a tempestuous, tough-cookie actress who has just fired the leading man, choreographer and costumer of her new film. Their unwelcome reunion occurs on a careening shoot-em-up car chase, the first of a series of dexterous set designs by Bretta Gerecke.
The second act redeems the unapologetic wackiness of the first: once we’ve spent some time exploring the actual characters behind these caricatures, we become invested in them, and the payoffs of this bittersweet love story are eminently satisfying. Make Mine Love makes good on all its promises as a play set in Hollywood’s Golden Age; Lily’s drop-dead gorgeous wardrobe is reason enough to see it. Northan and Ullyatt have crackling chemistry and it’s refreshing to see a love story that isn’t between two barely-adults—though we do get the young lovers’ story too, with a secondary romance that buds between choreographer Hobart Minor Jr (Alex McCooeye) and breathy starlet Violet Madsen (Lisa Norton), whose scenes are among the story’s most tender and lovely.
Visually, Make Mine Love is stunning: the dance between live performance, complex set pieces, projection and animation (by Jordan Dowler-Coltman and Owen Brierley) is a bold move. Such navigations are always tenuous and occasionally jarring when we switch from one to the other, but are nonetheless carried off superbly here. While the visuals are the biggest surprises in this otherwise classically formulated love story, Make Mine Love is a polished, gratifying theatrical romp.
Until Sun, Jun 1 (7:30 pm; 1:30 pm Sunday matinees)
Directed by Bob Baker
Citadel Theatre, $35 – $88.20