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Culture | The Envelope mistakes complaining for comedy

Vittorio Rossi’s new play is an empty critique of Canadian cinema

In any film industry, success comes at a price. The Envelope a new play from Montreal writer/director Vittorio Rossi, is the story of playwright Michael Moretti (Ron Lea) and the struggle to turn his play, Romeo’s Rise, into a movie. In an Italian restaurant, Moretti negotiates with producers from the Canadian Federal Film Fund and an indie director from Los Angeles in a gamble to win fame and fortune. This drama-comedy thus hits a crossroads: will Moretti choose hipster stardom in Hollywood or the spectacular mediocrity of living large in a country where people only watch television “for hockey, the news, or the weather”?

Moretti’s future as a reputable screenwriter hangs in the balance, as do the careers of his actors. He initially accepts a partnership with Canadian producer Jake Henry Smith (David Gow), who promises him sizeable public funding for his movie if he survives the editing process with Sarah Mackenzie (Leni Parker) from the Film Fund. The rest of the play sees the actors of Romeo’s Rise practicing their lines, arguing over romances, and fretting about the movie, while Moretti complains about the Film Fund’s bureaucracy and ineptitude. Lacking a complex and developed plot, The Envelope coasts through its story with frustratingly little effort.

The play’s biggest misstep is in the writing: it promises an exploration of the conflict between artistic integrity and pursuit of profit, not to mention the difficult balance between loyalty and individualism in a cutthroat industry. Unfortunately, The Envelope lacks any kind of meaningful emotional depth, as well as any motivation behind characters’ words and actions. When the stress over the fate of Romeo’s Rise culminates, one of the actors breaks down in tears – a superfluous, misplaced crying scene that is almost laughable in its disingenuousness.

This lack of impact could be attributed in part to the rushed dialogue, but, in fairness to the actors, the characters themselves are unengaging tropes: there’s the young swarthy Italian who is two steps away from a fistfight at any point, the flamboyant older actor to provide comic relief, and the innocent young actress in her first major show, to mention a few. While local actor Ron Lea is magnificent as Moretti, the aging playwright is little more than a Mary Sue – a flat and overly autobiographical character grappling with the hardships of playwriting.

The whole thing comes across as a lukewarm monologue pinballing between characters as they complain about how hard it is to ‘make it big’ in the industry. Before long, the trick gets old, and it starts to feel like Rossi wrote this play to passive-aggressively trash-talk the Canadian film scene.

Actually, almost all the characters appear to be mouthpieces for the playwright himself. The whole thing comes across as a lukewarm monologue pinballing between characters as they complain about how hard it is to ‘make it big’ in the industry. Before long, the trick gets old, and it starts to feel like Rossi wrote this play to passive-aggressively trash-talk the Canadian film scene. The problem is that Rossi wrote what the conflict is, but not why it’s important to the characters, which leaves the audience wondering why it should care what happens at all.

The humour also leaves something to be desired, relying on offensive and boring tropes. The only two female characters are both forced into awkward romances, and are otherwise mocked: the women are emotional and the men talk business. When Mackenzie (Parker), the older businesswoman, starts getting reasonably upset about the state of Canada’s movie industry, a male character tells her to “calm down and watch Dr. Phil,” playing the line for laughs. The biggest eye-roll comes when Moretti mansplains screenwriting to his female editor, describing the basics of filmmaking to her – a job she has done for her entire career.

Rossi’s stereotypical characters dabble in artistic and cultural elitism, as they mock awful blockbusters and children’s movies, claiming that these pale in comparison to theatre and high art. These condescending scenes give the impression that Rossi sees his own work as more culturally significant than pop culture. Indeed, one of The Envelope’s supposedly tragic moments is when Moretti is demanded to ‘dumb down’ his play so it can be turned into a children’s movie. This elitism is used to overly romanticize Moretti’s struggle for success.

Rossi’s cultural lament extends beyond the arts to an ancient critique of contemporary society. Characters engage in yelling matches about the garbage Millennial age of convenience over struggle: “Fuck Facebook, fuck Twitter. Connect with each other and not your phones,” screams one character, yearning for the yesteryear of film reviews delivered via carrier pigeons.

As a drama, The Envelope isn’t very intriguing. As a comedy, it isn’t very funny. That said, if you’re ever in the mood for angry people being angry as a sore surrogate for plot, The Envelope will certainly deliver.


 
The Envelope runs at Centaur Theatre until April 19.


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