Emma Slipp and Graham Percy in Arts Club’s Farewell, My Lovely. (photo by Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo)
Shadowy figures, damsels in distress, fedoras tilted just below one eye, ex-cons and gunshots galore fill the stage at the Art Club Theatre this month.
Raymond Chandler’s 1940s work Farewell, My Lovely is brought to life with enough campy villainy and “careful, shweetheart” to fill size 11 cement galoshes. And I loved every minute.
A warning though: if you’re used to minimal plotlines, you might want to bring a notepad to keep track of the twists and turns and numerous characters.
Graham Percy brings tough-nut detective Philip Marlowe to life as he investigates the case of a murdered nightclub manager and the missing girlfriend of an ex-con. Hired by the ex-con and pushed into the case by a lazy detective, Marlowe first tracks down Jessie Florian, the nightclub owner’s widow. A sad case, in a scotch-induced stupor, she throws herself at him, then reacts in disdain, then seems to genuinely want to help him.
On what seems to be a different track, but soon turns out to be connected to the original case, Marlowe takes a job for Lindsay Marriott (Anthony Ingram). Marriott wants Marlowe to act as a bodyguard in an exchange of a cash ransom for a rare jade necklace. That ends with Marlowe knocked unconscious, Marriott dead and a new character – Anne Riordan (Emma Slipp), who turns out to be the daughter of a policeman known to Marlowe.
Riordan knows who the owner of the necklace is – a wealthy woman by the name of Helen Grayle (Jamie Konchak). Riordan wants to join Marlowe on the case, and also demonstrates affection for him. At first, he returns her affection but is reluctant to have her involved. He continues his quest, eventually meeting with a psychic named Jules Amthor (also played by Ingram), who is somehow linked to the necklace and is also involved with drugs.
Marlowe visits with Grayle, then reconnects with Florian after she leads him down a dead-end, and then finally ends up looking for clues on an offshore gambling boat. Here is where all the loose ends are tied up, the answer to the case is found and more people are shot.
Aside from the theme of the gruff-but-good detective versus the bad guys, the thread of Marlowe’s love life keeps popping up. Each of the female characters – Florian, Riordan and Grayle – tries to seduce Marlowe. He sympathetically rejects Florian’s drunken flirtations, seems to have something serious for Riordan, but risks it for the flattering attention of the beautiful and seductive Grayle. After the case is done, he ends up with … well, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
While Percy does an admirable job of reprising the well-known hard-boiled detective role, there’s something about his character I didn’t find believable. While he had the lines and the tone right, he came across as having more of the sloppiness of Peter Falk’s Columbo than the alluring and mysterious attractiveness of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Perhaps it’s unfair to make the comparison, but I just couldn’t see Percy’s character taking the place of Bogart’s Marlowe opposite Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.
One thing that did impress me in the Arts Club production was the creative use of the actors rearranging the stage set as needed between scenes, while still staying in character. I also admired the choice to use film sequences projected over the set to add context to the action on stage. Dramaturg Rachel Ditor and stage manager Jan Hodgson deserve kudos for the adaptation and presentation of the performance. Well done, shweethearts.
Farewell, My Lovely runs at the Arts Club Granville Island stage until May 2.
Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work be seen at phase2coaching.com.