Billy Bishop's Nieuport 17 - A Chair, A Broom & A LadderThursday, April 01, 2010
Going to see a play that one has not seen in 28 years is like trying to relive or remember a dream over the toilet during a middle of the night call. The memories seem to fade almost immediately. But this time around my memories have a tactile element (negatives and transparencies) and a visual one.
The particular folder in my extensive files says Billy Bishop. Inside I find an envelope that says August 1982, Playhouse Theatre. So I know I never saw the original production at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in 1978. I have no idea who commissioned me to take these pictures of an obvious re-mounting at the Playhouse with a nice big set and what looks like an almost real airplane.
My wife Rosemary says she sat at the last row at the Playhouse while I was in the lighting booth. It seems I must have been discussing with the lighting person what kind of light I would need to serve as a level for my own flash umbrellas.
Looking at the pictures memories came back. I remember hearing versions of Billy Bishop performed at one of Vancouver Children’s Festivals and I can remember the sound of John Gray’s piano wafting outside the tents of Vanier Park.
Through the years I have become a friend of John Gray as I have taken his picture a few times and I see in his piano playing and in his voice a warmth that satisfies and settles my stress. Gray is like a friendly tom cat. In his presence the world is just fine.
I did see a bit of that in last night’s performance of Billy Bishop Goes to War (an Arts club Theatre Company and Persephone Theatre co-production) at the Granville Island Stage. John Gray’s son, Zachary Gray, brought a quiet (John Gray’s pairing with Eric Peterson seemed to be more in your face) presence with his beautiful smile and his laid back singing while accompanying himself on the piano or guitar (both an acoustic and electric). With his hair combed back with greasy kid stuff he looked like one of those English actors in Masterpiece Theatre productions. My guess is that I will enjoy his performance even more in four years when he is a bit older.
My expectation of the show and the real reason I went to Billy Bishop was to see how my favourite would-be standup comedian would deal with the complex character of Billy Bishop plus all the others he must impersonate. Ryan Beil, below, left, did not disappoint me. Ryan Beil has to be Vancouver’s male equivalent to Lois Anderson who can play serious or funny just like that.
In comparing Beil's take on Billy Bishop with what I can remember of Eric Peterson I would say that latter's was conventional in expressing more respect for the role of a fighter pilot in a war of horrors while Beil's wsa more irreverent, more authenting ir refecting the mind of the under 20 Billy Bishop. In my own country of birth, Argentina (and I believe with many US Tea Party members) the stepping by Beil on a British flag is an irreverence that would not be tolerated.
In just the first few moments all of those haunting and catchy melodies came back and I was settled in for a fine night with my Rosemary (she likes little and not often) who somehow had a smile in her face for most of the evening.
As per usual Itai Erdal’s lighting (below holding a Christmas ornament) like Sarah Rodgers’(seen here with actor Allan Morgan) direction is almost unnoticeable but there. For me the real fun was Kevin McAllister’s set design. Without revealing more I will just say that the broom-chair-and-ladder airplane and its assembly by Gray and Beil was one of those magically funny moments of the play.
Just about every time that I have been to a play at the Granville Island Stage I have had a bit of a problem hearing all the dialogue from the middle of the middle where we were. In my family I am noted for having an extremely sensitive ear. I am sure that the folks at the Arts Club may have studied this problem and my only amateur suggestion would be to find out if the sound would improve if the piano were to be moved 5 feet forward. But then this is only a minor quibble on part.
For reasons that escape me I have in those Billy Bishop files one envelope that says Billy Bishop at the CBC, Studio 1. Could they, John Gray and Eric Peterson have been recording the play for a radio program?
I am glad that costume advisor Darryl Milot did not suggest a heavier mustache for Ryan Beil. From where I was (I was not ever sure if he did have one) I can see in Beil's future the perfect part made just for him. He will someday play Adolf Hitler. I cannot wait!