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.
Jake 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.