Nine: A hallucinating showstopper
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 06:00 am
Running until July 14
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There are a couple of good reasons to applaud Nine, an extravaganza that opened at Walterdale Playhouse on Wednesday night.
It’s a large-scale project with 24 actors, many playing multiple parts. Ambitious in scope, it shows once again that Kristen M. Finlay is an imaginative director, an artist that turns a desert into a blooming garden.
The script has a few inherent flaws, however Finlay is a good match to Maury Yetson’s score, a clever mix of showbiz pizzazz and light opera delivered by Sally Hunt’s four-piece band.
Set in the sixties, primarily at a Venetian spa, Nine stays comparatively true to Federico Fellini’s 8, a story of a filmmaker who suffers writer’s block and a marriage crisis.
The suave and sophisticated filmmaker Guido Contini has scored some big hits, but his latest three films have flopped and his marriage is barely limping.
An immature 40-year-old going on 10, Guido stickhandles women like pucks. He’s cheated on a beautiful wife, Luisa, while enjoying the sexual gratification of Carla, his pole-dancing mistress.
And Claudia, his leading lady/muse is a woman men lust after. However, in private she is a different person from her on-screen siren image. Yet Guido refuses to see past the sexy cinematic vision he created.
As his breakdown kicks in, fantasy flashbacks and reality merge and the parade of women in his life – wife, mistress, muse, dead mother, aunts – swarm in his head offering solutions to his creative block and sexual confusion.
The plot has a bit of a hollow core and at gut level it’s tough to care too deeply about Guido or the women nibbling at this soul.
Visually imaginative, Guido lacks a moral compass and at times comes off as a jerk, a compulsive liar and a straight-out attention-getter.
But in the middle of all the vanity and narcissism, actor Cory Christensen also displays a certain tenderness and humanity. And it’s his fear of failing as a man and an artist that gives Guido a heroic quality.
Kristin Johnston as Luisa plays her role magnificently as the wounded wife and Guido’s former leading lady. During a paparazzi attack in My Husband Makes Movies, her vocals are powerful and beautiful with a demure grace that hides a passionate anger.
And as an actress Johnston also packs a lot of emotion into her role moving from love to confusion to anger and finally forgiveness.
On the other hand, Claudia (Nadine Veroba) as the muse is tired of Guido’s games and no longer wants to play. It takes too much out of her. In A Man Like You, a touching duet with Guido, Veroba is seductive, playful and preparing to cut the cord.
The most sizzling choreographic element definitely belongs to Carla, the platinum blonde, skimpily clad mistress. Actress Erika Noot pushes her gymnastic talents to the limit in a superb one-woman pole dance simulating a two-body copulation that drew thundering applause from the audience.
Leland Stelck’s set design in combination with Finlay’s vision is an homage to 20th century surrealist Salvador Dali. It is a series of giant filmstrips and movie reels melting into the floor that mirrors the distorted dissolution of Guido’s life.
Set against the bland backdrop are all the women in Guido’s life – women of all sizes, shapes and ages that give the filmmaker’s life colour and meaning. One of the most enticing is Sarraghina, the voluptuous village whore. She gave the 10-year old Guido (Jeffrey Swanson) a glimpse into forbidden desires, and Kate Wylie certainly gives a saucy, robust presentation.
Guido’s professional and personal tailspin requires more of an emotional catharsis than Nine provides. But the cast puts its heart and soul on display, and in the end it’s just a lot of fun.