Edmonton Journal

Sharp thriller returns to Shadow Theatre

- LIZ NICHOLLS lnicholls@edmontonjo­urnal.com

Becoming Sharp Theatre: Shadow Written by: David Belke Directed by: John Hudson Starring: Jenna Dykes-Busby, Linda Grass, Liana Shannon

Where: The Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave. Running: Thursday through May 17 Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesq­uare.ca)

In Becoming Sharp, David Belke’s 2005 comic thriller, opening Thursday in a Shadow Theatre revival, you meet a highly successful author up against a punishing deadline. The prolific award-winning playwright/designer, whose work has travelled widely in the world, should know something about that, since so many of his plays have premièred at the Fringe. But, here’s the rub: Eleanor Innes writes her hit murder mysteries — of the plucky girl-detective ilk — under a pseudonym, Sylvia Sharp. And the conspiraci­es start proliferat­ing the moment she hires herself a young and ambitious ghost writer.

John Hudson’s Shadow production is the first show by a Varscona Theatre Alliance company to re-locate to the Backstage Theatre in the ATB Financial Arts Barns. Meanwhile, we tracked down Belke with 10 questions, on your behalf.

Q: You create a lot of characters who are creators themselves: musicians, actors, writers of every stripe, cartoonist­s, directors, film types. Is this a coincidenc­e? A: It’s a world I’m familiar with …. Art has some fascinatio­n for me. Q: What’s the seed that germinated Becoming Sharp, with its burnout writer of hit murder mysteries?

A: For 20 years, Lester Dent wrote novel after novel (starring the scientist/adventurer Doc Savage) every month under the name Kenneth Robeson. How do you live that life? How can you stop your artistic creation from becoming entwined with you? Under the name Maxwell Grant, William Gibson (“the Shadow knows”) wrote 300 novels, one a month, for decades …. This is the world of Eleanor Innes, who writes Nancy Drew-style mysteries under the house name Sylvia Sharp on a pretty tight schedule.

Q: Why are you and Shadow Theatre reviving it?

A: That’s the beauty of being a resident playwright. I wasn’t quite satisfied with it (in its 2005 première production), and I had that very rare opportunit­y to try once again, to sharpen it all up.

Q: You could be writing novels; you could be making movies. Why theatre?

A: Of all the literary forms, it’s the one that exists in the moment, the absolute present. You experience theatre in a way that’s different from screen arts. With movies, the director shows you what he wants you to see. With theatre, the audience has to track the action for themselves!

Q: Did you have a big, cover-all-bases career plan: acting, theatre design, playwritin­g, improv?

A: (Laughter). Theatre (sigh), one of the most impractica­l life choices you can make . … As a kid, comic books were my thing. I wanted to be a cartoonist; I wanted to be Charles Schultz. In my high school year book, that was my career goal: “writer of comic books.” Actually, I went into education at university, a social studies/drama major. And there was an obligatory design class …

Q: And one thing led to another?

A: Well, writing plays, I never planned on that. It was something I discovered … I’d been writing scenarios for murder mystery dinner theatre. And (actors) Linda Karenko and Gary Lloyd had an idea for a play — a sword-and-sorcery fantasy — and asked me to write it. I thought, OK I’ll give this a shot! (The result was Swordplay, which premièred at the 1990 Fringe and was revived in 2014)…. You make use of what’s offered.

Like the Fringe.

Q: Like improv? After all, you did come up with the name of Edmonton’s improv theatre, and it stuck: Rapid Fire.

A: Comedy in an instant and under the gun. … After two or three Theatrespo­rts workshops, suddenly I found myself onstage. For three years I was half of a two-person team; all the other teams had four people. On one hand, it was kind of stressful; on the other, you absolutely had to say yes (to all suggestion­s) and go on. Improv’s a wonderful way to train a storytelle­r; you’re constantly creating stories, from the ground up. Cheering’s always a nice sound. But you certainly know when you’ve failed. Q: You’ve written Shakespear­e/film noir crossover spoofs; you’ve sought out Shakespear­e characters backstage and in each other’s plays: Forsooth my Lovely, The Maltese Bodkin, and the scene compendium Exit Pursed By Bard. What’s with you and Shakespear­e? A: I fell in love with Shakespear­e through the movies, watching Laurence Olivier’s Richard III when I was in high school. I remember being spellbound: that language, those living, breathing characters. … We’d improvise Shakespear­e scenes at Theatrespo­rts.

Q: In honour of Becoming Sharp, with its writer of hit mysteries up against it, can you recommend some mystery movies?

A: Murder on the Orient Express (1974), L.A. Confidenti­al (1997), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), North by Northwest (1959), and in a more comic vein, Fletch (1985) and Clue (1985). Q: Last summer marked your 25th anniversar­y of writing and producing new plays at the Fringe (under the ACME Theatre banner). Will you be back at the festivitie­s this year? A: With two plays. A revival of Blackpool and Parrish, and a new play Allure, about the early life of Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr.

 ?? MAT BUSBY ?? Liana Shannon, Jenna Dykes-Busby and Linda Grass star in David Belke’s Becoming Sharp, at Shadow Theatre.
MAT BUSBY Liana Shannon, Jenna Dykes-Busby and Linda Grass star in David Belke’s Becoming Sharp, at Shadow Theatre.

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