Starring Tyne Daly. Rating unavailable
“Euripides, you pay fa dese!” That was one of my dad’s favourite jokes. As an amateur poet and occasionally professional opera singer, he would have been an ideal viewer for A Bread Factory, a matched pair of two-hour movies, set in a struggling small-town theatre, that can be seen separately or together, with a break. Long-time veterans of the art wars will enjoy the whole thing, but this sizable sit has something for everybody.
The pioneering Greek playwright, who had boffo box office 2,500 years ago, is in the picture because his Hecuba is about to be revived by the folks at the Bread Factory, a community arts centre run by tough-minded Dorothea, played by Cagney & Lacey’s Tyne Daly, and the gentler Greta (Elisabeth Henry-Macari). They’re using a combination of old-timers (like South African Brian Murray, who has since died) and local kids to flesh out the tragedy that happens in the follow-up to war between Greece and Troy.
For more than four decades, the former loafery has been successfully hosting programs of all kinds—Janeane Garofolo has an early cameo as a caustic independent filmmaker—in the fictional upstate New York town of Checkford (actually Hudson). But in Part One, subtitled For the Sake of Gold, a Trojan horse arrives in the form of another arts centre, run by slick Chinese performers applying for the same subsidies our Breadies normally depend on.
The artists in question, called May and Ray and played by a real-life couple, England’s George Young and Taiwanese-American Janet Hsieh, are all space suits, fuzzy shoes, and robotic pronouncements. (“China is the future!”) Their shtick is funny at first, but this is by far the easiest target picked by Texas-born writer-director Patrick Wang, a theatre veteran (and trained economist) whose similarly hefty first feature, In the Family, stuck to more intimate confines. While not entirely convincing, the new film’s duelling-bohos conflict gives him as much leisurely time to spend with the small-town players—dotty artists, venal politicians, chirpy merchants, and lippy kids—as any four episodes of Gilmore Girls.
Of particular interest is a coming-of-age subplot with Zachary Sayle as a love-struck high-schooler who ends up taking over the local newspaper from a veteran journalist (Glynnis O’Connor, who had the Bobbie Gentry role in 1976’s Ode to Billy Joe). Especially in the warmer second half, called Walk With Me a While, the extra-loose format allows for singing real-estate agents, tap-dancing café patrons, and aged actors who confuse Chekhov plays with their own back stories. It’s hit-and-miss stuff, and Wang’s not very interested in camera moves, establishing shots, and other cinematic niceties. But when things click, Factory’s heady halves produce surprisingly strong emotions. Pay for these and make Euripides happy.