After High Tea at the Arbour Restaurant in Rutherford House, Janice, May and I headed to the Walterdale Playhouse in Old Strathcona to watch a double-billing of Up Shit Creek and Bless You, Billy Wilder, a part of the Walterdale’s annual “Trading Stages” event:
“A collaboration of beginners and masters. Four directors and two writers, under the guidance of established local professionals, hone their crafts presenting a series of one-acts. A new masterpiece and an established piece from a master will run each night.”
Up Shit Creek, by Taylor Chadwick and mentored by David Belke, was up first. A play about a Canadian and an American filmmaker crafting a movie about 9/11, I found the dialogue inarticulate and unnecessarily circular. The enactment of the film scenes with mini Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein puppets were as amusing as it sounds, but created a pacing that felt off. By the end, I still didn’t feel any compassion for either of the characters – the American for feeling that he had to “sell out” to his film executive father, or the Canadian for not getting his desired story told. For that reason, the play seemed long and simply a vehicle for the writer to debate reactions to 9/11.
With that disappointment, I was even more excited about seeing a vintage Belke, or at least, what I thought would be a vintage Belke. With “Billy Wilder” in the title, I was honestly expecting something like Dreamland Saturday Nights – a harmless, lighthearted romantic comedy. What we got instead was an experience not unlike the Fringe surprise May and I saw a few years ago (billed as a coming-of-age story, the production ended up being a show about bulimia).
Bless You, Billy Wilder started out innocently enough – a shy artist who grew up in a religious colony interviews for a position to assist a man with a film restoration project. Interspersed with clips from Greed by Erich Von Stroheim, the movie being worked on, the play quickly degenerated into one focused on mental illness and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ending with the man curled on the floor, racking with sobs, as his assistant tried to comfort him. The pair of actors were the bright spots – Michael Beamish as Emil was scarily spot-on, jolting my blood pressure as his manic attacks increased in frequency, and Kassia Haynes as Patience was as mature, loving and warm as her character should have been. Still, I can’t say I enjoyed myself – Bless You is the type of play one has to be mentally prepared for.