Appeared in the North Shore News – March 16, 2012
COLUMNISTS live in terror that their opus, or opi, will be overtaken by events.
Suppose you write a truculent rant about Senator Wyndbagg. Deadline, Monday. On Friday your golden words are committed to imperishable print. Phone rings Friday morning. “Hey, whaddya know? Senator Wyndbagg died last night. Oh, and great timing. Your knife job has broken the widow Wyndbagg’s heart.”
But enough frivolity. I’d be seriously delighted if my obituary for the Playhouse Theatre Company is obsolete when you read it – that this week some Good Samaritan (a Pharisee would be okay too) will have stepped forward and resurrected the Playhouse like Lazarus.
Biblical references aside, I’m in denial that the almost 50-year-old company is gone. And for a relatively paltry debt of about $900,000. This is a disaster for Vancouver theatre – all of it.
Just last April, thanks to West Vancouver businessman Peter Kains, I had lunch at the Sandman with managing artistic director Max Reimer, who had come back to Vancouver from Ontario in 2008 – ominous year of the market meltdown – with solid artistic and financial credentials, a rare combination. Reimer was volcanically euphoric: The Playhouse business plan was working. It had struck a deal for its off-theatre operations. Etc.
By last September, word leaked that city council had quietly bailed out the company with $900,000 in loans. This was self-fulfilling-prophecy territory: The investors, in this case season subscribers, already pinched by recession, backed off, numbers reportedly dropping from 8,000 to 4,500, and the money-spinning wine festival also floundered.
Theatre hangs by a thread – worse, by a silver hair of an aging audience badly needing an injection of youth.
Last week the Playhouse died, one play short of a season. I consider this its best for years. My personal favourite, the moving Tosca Café, deserved sold-out stickers. La Cage aux Folles was comparable to the 1984 Broadway production. Red was an unexpected treat.
Eccentrically, I frequently depart at intermission if a play doesn’t especially engage me, and did so at what turned out to be the Playhouse’s last Wednesday matinee, Hunchback. This paper’s Martin Millerchip expansively and admirably reviewed it, but my inmost secret is: I can’t stand cruelty, real or staged. I once left Les Miserables because I’d seen an earlier production and choked at another depiction of idealistic youth slain on the barricades.
Playhouse memories. Opening night of George Ryga’s The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, 1967, with Frances Hyland, Chief Dan George, Robert Clothier, Ann Mortifee, my friend the late Walter Marsh – what a cast. Eric Nicol’s Like Father, Like Fun, which went on to Montreal and Toronto and bombed on Broadway – inspiring Nicol’s witty memoir of it, A Scar is Born. Norm Foster’s inventively spirited The Love List two years ago.
Save this company, someone. Ruin this column.
Closer to home, another sad closing: Dundarave Stationery.
Until a few years ago it was run by a couple of dear older ladies. West Vancouver has lost its last second-hand bookstore too, the oddly caparisoned successor to David Moon’s durable Bookstall having been replaced by a Persian art establishment.
Ah, but new and flashy monuments to upmarket consumers lie ahead. It says here that, the Grosvenor camel nose now having insinuated itself into the tent, I’ll bet anyone in the house that within 15 years the small north-side shops of the 1300-block will vanish. What Mayor Michael Smith dismissively called a “shantytown.” Oh, that’ll be good for those many small businesses already beset by an obstinately unrecovering recovery and high municipal taxes.
Human-scale citizens showed up at town hall by the hundreds – when was the last time rows of seats had to be placed in the foyer for the overflow? – mostly favouring a human-scale Ambleside.
Not the inevitable banks, chic shops, high-end (American?) chain stores and gleaming condos reaping much higher property taxes to pay our out-of-control senior managers at the hall.
Councillors assure critics that this is only an option to purchase, that they’ll still have the whip hand of zoning when the final sale goes through and Grosvenor’s feel-good-and-fuzzy plans materialize in detail. This is the classic equivalent of putting the frog in a pan of cold water and turning up the heat so slowly that it doesn’t know it’s dead.
The hype at Grosvenor’s storefront includes depiction of two solid blobs, no higher than three fingers of whiskey, joined by a little bent line, which represent eight-storey (currently forbidden) buildings and an atrium.
They’re so uninformatively innocuous you could miss them.
Letter-writer Christine Ballantine makes the persuasive point that the covered atrium, providing public access between Marine Drive and Bellevue, would attract vagrants.
If Grosvenor gets its eight storeys, what legal or moral leg will council have to stand on to turn down other developers on the block, demanding the same? Goodbye, shantyown, hello, Rodeo Drive Jr.
© Trevor Lautens, 2012