Mote shines some light into Psycho

Mote asks a lot if ‘what ifs’ about the characters of Psycho. Namely, what if we dropped the conceptions about their deepest personality traits and explored if there could be something more there? Blarney Production’s workshop of Mote plays at La Cité Francophone until May 17.

Mote features the characters from Psycho – Norman (Luc Tellier), Marion (Twilla MacLeod), Sam (Chris Schulz), Lila (Morgan Smith), and Arbogast (Brian Dooley) as well as an ensemble of the other people they meet along their journey – Dave Horak and Murray Utas as suspicious psychologists trying to ensnare their patients, and Andrea Rankin as the over-eager secretary at the real estate firm and a host of diner waitresses.

In an interview with Liz Nicholls, playwright José Teodoro says a big theme of the play is about disappearing and reinventing oneself. And I won’t reveal whether the characters are actually able to accomplish that in Mote, but the show certainly asks the question of whether it’s possible to disappear without a trace. Or disappear and leave someone behind who knows your secret, but will fiercely guard it? To convey to someone how badly you want to disappear in a one-time interaction between strangers and build a relationship that will help you hide your trail?

The Marion Crane of Mote is much more brazen and rash than what we saw in the 1960s film version of her. Twilla MacLeod walks the line between the picture of the composed 1960s lady society expects her to be and the incredible desperation of a woman who feels she has no other option but to completely leave the life she knows behind. Maybe it was the desperation that sometimes took over the character, but I felt the Marion of Mote was a little more modern than a 1960s woman – even a more liberal one – would act.

The other theme that stood out to me in Mote is that we’ve all got darkness and light inside us. Psycho was supposed to be terrifying and in it Norman is presented as a hermit with a dissociative identity disorder that’s led him to become a serial killer. Mote humanizes him by showing another side of Norman – the good parts – while still hinting at the dark parts of him that the audience knows from the film. It allows us to see past the mental illness that essentially dominates our thinking about Psycho and Norman and gives a bit of insight into how that illness may have been developed. Through Mote, we understand Norman as more than a tormented person with several identities living inside of him – we are able to look at him as someone who was abused and repressed, is incredibly lonely, and essentially, through no fault of his own, has had a really tough life. This understanding allows us to reflect on ourselves and ask, ‘What would I be like if I was put into those life circumstances?’

Luc Tellier played the role of Norman really well – his youth and the way he played Norman with a sense of earnestness worked really well to overcome preconceptions that audience members familiar with Psycho may have had about the character, and contributed to the idea that there’s more to anyone than meets the eye.

The staging of the theatre also contributes to this idea of looking at the whole person, and conceptually ties the play to the movie. There is no first level seating in La Cité Francophone, instead all audience members are seated around the railing of the first balcony, looking down onto the main level of the theatre. With the risers folded up, the play takes place on the entire first floor of the theatre. The audience is put into the omnipotent/God role, reinforcing that even though (most) audience members know the dark side of Norman, we’re also able to see where he’s coming from and the good things that he does.

Being above the actors also replicates the physical distance from the characters that you experience when watching a movie or television show. It does also reduce one of the things that’s always appealed to me about theatre, or any live performance, in that you’re in the room with the person who is, in some way, experiencing whatever is being portrayed on stage. This is the thing that has always captivated me about theatre, as opposed to movies or television shows, when you know that they’ve worked for a week to shoot one three minute scene. Or, even if it’s reality television – you’re not in the room with them and it’s automatically made artificial by transmitting it from New Jersey or Hollywood or wherever and being shown to you through a screen, as opposed to the theatre experience of looking a real person in the eyes as they show you their story. But this physical separation works in Mote. The audience doesn’t get as much of that emotional experience – there’s no eye contact with the actors and I found myself hyper-aware of the distance between myself and the actors. For me, it reduced the emotional connection with the characters, but it allowed me to feel even more so that I was getting that neutral, third-party look into a character.

One thing about Mote that was difficult for me was the pacing, despite understanding why the show has been set up this way. To a modern audience, who is used to doing three things at once (admit it, you watch TV while on your laptop and checking your cell phone, don’t you?), the pacing of Mote feels incredibly slow. But it’s the same experience as if you watch Psycho. When my partner and I watched it last weekend, we were both saying, ‘Okay, let’s get to the action!’ – but that slower pacing is how things used to be portrayed on screen – while I was doing post-secondary schooling, one of my professors brought up a commercial from the 1980s and the entire class got restless and bored watching it, and Psycho was released in 1960! While the slower pacing was sometimes a source of frustration for me in watching Mote, it was an interesting way of relating back to the movie and subtly referencing back to the 1960s. However, one area the slower pacing did fall a bit flat was Marion’s on-stage costume changes. While the costume changes reflected the emotional and character changes Marion experiences throughout the show, the changes ended up slowing the momentum of the show without creating a much deeper understanding of the character.

The aesthetics of the show also reflected Mote‘s cinematic roots (recognizing, of course, that the movie was based on Robert Bloch’s novel). The lighting (designed by Scott Peters), projections (Max Amerongen), and costumes (Megan Koshka) were all rooted in that gritty, shadowy, film noir aesthetic and contributed to both the theme of disappearing and of there being both light and dark in each person.

Mote plays at La Cité Francophone until May 17. Tickets are $16.75 – $22 from Tix on the Square (or at the door, $15 – $20). Tickets are two-for-one on Tuesday, May 12. Check out Blarney Production’s website for more information.

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