A Tempting Envelope

By Alan Hustak on March 28, 2015

Not only do you  have to care,  but you have to care passionately about the way movies  in English-speaking Canada are made to  appreciate  The Envelope,  Vittorio Rossi’s   “gibber about the Canadian film industry,”  playing at the Centaur Theatre  until  April 19.

It’s  a  fascinating  glimpse into the world of moviemaking   but one  which may leave  many outside the theatre community a little bewildered.  The Envelope is  essentially  a play about  idealism,  greed  and artistic integrity  - in Rossi’s rant, it is about  “an industry that kills talent.”  

Working on  a  set designed by  Evita Karasek  that is a perfect restaurant  for power lunches Rossi delivers an evening that  is spiced with acidic brio and peppered with requisite  Italian references, cheap shots at critics and  digs at Toronto.   Rossi directed his own work with  mechanical  precision and is clearly spoiling for a fight.  

The Envelope centres on a crisis of conscience. 

envelope.jpgJake Henry Smith  (David  Gow)  “a typical Canadian film producer  who knows how to play the system for money,” is eager to turn Romeo’s Rise, a  play by  Michael  Moretti  (Ron Lea)  into a Canadian movie.   They  are  assured of $6-million  “envelope”  in government funding,   but  only if   Moretti  is prepared to surrender control of the creative process to mindless bureaucrats in the funding agency and rewrite the play to meet their conditions.   If he agrees to the deal  he will profit handsomely from a  movie that no one will ever see.  So  does  Moretti  sell his soul,  take the money and  run?   Or does he accept another offer from an Indie film maker that doesn’t pay nearly as much, but which allows the work to be produced  intact  for U.S. audiences.? 

Ron Lea as Michael is a marvel at  soul  searching  and  Gow as the producer is suitably slimy as the snake hustling the tempting deal.   But it is  the  tribal dynamic of the three actors involved  in staging  Romeo’s Rise  that really bring The Envelope alive. Shawn Campbell, as an insufferable narcissit,  has a memorable  turn with a  speech about human connection.   Guido Cocomello is a riveting presence on stage as an actor being cheated out of a promised role,  and Melanie Sirois is  beguiling as the love interest.  Leni Parker as Sarah Mackenzie, the government bureaucrat  with a creative conscience proves crucial to resolving the dilemma.  Tony Calabretta  as restaurateur Franco Maldini  gets  off  some of the best quips of the evening.  

Rossi  is  well served by  his  cast   but as a piece of theatre,  his  script is repetitive and often  hamstrung  by the chip on his shoulder .  It  could benefit from some judicious editing.


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