Bravely undertaking an increasingly ambitious role as an originator of experimental on-line programming, Against the Grain Theatre has been streaming a limited run of its latest on-demand project, an unapologetically anarchic 11-minute pilot episode for a projected web series reverse engineered from the company’s 2016 presentation, A Little Too Cozy. Originally live-staged in the CBC Broadcast Centre’s cavernous Studio 42, artistic director Joel Ivany’s irreverent remake of Mozart’s notoriously problematic opera buffa, Cosi fan tutte, went some considerable distance to silencing a multitude of classic pre-existing artistic faux pas. Viewed through the lens of an imagined reality-based game show, Ivany’s sharp-eyed, often subversive take on love gone madly askew injected a degree of plausibility and multi-dimensionality into 18th century librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte’s frequently vexing period text. Four discomfited contestants goaded into bad behaviour by a louche studio host — all bright lights and dazzling Mozartian glitter — made for ferociously quick-witted music theatre.
The latest iteration of AtG’s snappy, whipsmart offering gathers up the initial premise and flings it simultaneously upwards and backwards in time. Winners and losers in the glossy game of love are glimpsed sans elaborate TV make-up and flashy on-camera apparel in this clever web-based prequel, living their doubtless soon-to-be-upended lives in blunt, plainspoken backstory, a not-so-cool calm, collected foreword to the inevitable round of rom com chaos presumably lying not-so-straight ahead.
As might be expected, character is at the forefront here. Guglielmo clone Greg Winnow (Elliot Madore) is smarminess personified. Ferrando update Frank Jams (Asitha Tennekoon) is a sweet lunkhead. Fiordiligi counterpart Felicity Arnold (Jonelle Sills) is painfully down to earth. Dorabella double Dora Khalil (Rihab Chaieb) positively sizzles. The potential for personal jeopardy is everywhere. What is considerably more difficult to foresee, however, is how Ivany intends to factor the musical side of the ledger into the balance. Apart from composer Kevin Lau’s decidedly appealing nod to Mozart’s bubbly manuscript score underlying the end credits, music of any sort is limited and singing nowhere to be found despite the presence of a formidable vocally gifted cast. Rounding out the list of featured players, Brett Polegato is a marvelously over-the-top MC, Don L. Fonzo. Midori Marsh and Gregory Finney are harried TV staffers Despina and Kyle respectively.
The implication, it seems, is clear. Opera resides somewhere nearby. Or perhaps not so near. There are still a number of tangible uncertainty principles in play here. Singspiel or through-composed? Arias or ariosos? Serialized or discrete segments?
Until the series is well and truly underway, A Little Too Cozy: The Digital Prequel will remain a tantalizing hint of what is to come.
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A Little Too Cozy, technical direction by Stephen Bell, is available on YouTube until November 25th.