The Scarlet Queen of Mercy

Cast of The Scarlet Queen of Mercy Credit: Diane Smithers
Some of the cast of The Scarlet Queen of Mercy
Credit: Diane Smithers

At the Russian Hall May 7-10, May 14-17 and May 21-24

Posted May 3, 2015

They say it takes a village to raise a child. The Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret program for The Scarlet Queen of Mercy takes three pages – a small village – to list the cast, crew, production, marketing, creative, art department, music and musicians (eleven, under the direction of Jack Garton). If The Scarlet Queen of Mercy sounds like a musical extravaganza, it is. But there can be too much of a good thing, too: there’s frenzy in the air.

The Russian Hall is a great old wooden barn of a building on Campbell Avenue in the heart of Strathcona. The building began as the Yugoslavian Centre but was taken over in 1947 by The Federation of Russian Canadians of BC as a cultural centre “without pecuniary gain to its members”, according to FRC website. With its ‘History’ page under construction, how old the building has thus-far stymied Google. Let’s just say it’s old. In an area of funky, skinny old homes of a bygone era (many lovingly restored) and old country gardens (nodding with bluebells and sweet-smelling lily-of-the-valley at this time of year), it’s well worth a stroll through the neighbourhood before going to the show.

Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret has transformed the main floor of the hall into various performance areas and, since the show is about a 1955 Hollywood filming of a movie called The Scarlet Queen of Mercy, these sites include a makeup room, the dressing room, a torture chamber, a police station, and the stage. Old camera and lighting equipment are constantly being wheeled around and re-positioned; the makeup girl is perpetually brushing up the actors; men and women with clipboards abound; and the producer is worriedly trailing the director – who is constantly saying, “I’m having a thought” thereby changing the script and adding to the mounting cost. It’s busy on the set. And Arthur Goudy (Jack Garton), the film director, is a terrible womanizer so there are multiple romances happening simultaneously.

The audience is seated at small cabaret-style tables or in rows behind the tables. (A VIP ticket to the show includes a bottle of wine.) The ‘production assistant’ gives instructions to stand up and rotate the chairs when the action moves off the stage – which is set up as the cabaret where Ava Carlo as Ruby (Karly Warkentin) performs – and into one of the corners.

If the action moves all over the place, so does the story written, directed and choreographed by Kat Single-Dain.

Fergal McSwiggan and Nathan Barrett Credit: Diane Smithers
Fergal McSwiggan and Nathan Barrett
Credit: Diane Smithers

But it all starts off with a bang: a shimmery chorus line with high-stepping hoofers singing and dancing “A Little Ice Cream in My Cone”, written by Patrick Kearns. It’s cheesy – as it’s meant to be – and a little bit naughty with one of the chorus girls asking for more balls in her cone. Hmmm.

Ruby, divorced from cabaret-owner Gus (Fergal McSwiggan), still has a hankering for him but falls for Prince Nicolay (Nathan Barrett) from the fictitious Bolonia. English not being the Prince’s first language, he frequently gets things wrong: “My erection is in your hands” instead of “my protection is in your hands.” You get the idea.

There comes a point when separating the offstage action from the film becomes a ridiculous exercise – or maybe it was the glass of wine I foolishly purchased.

The music, written variously by Patrick Kearns, Karly Warkentin, Jack Garton and Martin Reisle, is terrific. An absolute standout is Jack Garton, as the film’s director Arthur Goudy. Best known for his work as a singer, songwriter, accordionist and trumpet player with Vancouver’s Maria in the Shower, Garton is a Tom Waits-style singer who really rocks the Russian Hall. I say, “Let this guy loose for way more than a couple of dynamite solos.”

Also excellent is Candice Roberts as Stella, who is constantly trying to enlarge her movie role with goofy ideas.

Two endings: one somber, one ecstatic with a colorful, rowdy ‘Bolonian’ wedding and much music, folk dancing and the enthusiastic shouting of the Bolonian equivalent, I assume, of ‘L’Chaim’ – To Life.

You can take your kids (although there are some sock ‘im, knee ‘im in the groin dust-ups). On opening night, one couple took their little dog. Now that’s real community theatre for you.