Scorpio Theatre maintains ‘badass motif’ taking on Quentin Tarantino’s renowned film
The first film directed by Quentin Tarantino is now the first direct-from-film adaptation by Calgary’s Scorpio Theatre. Reservoir Dogs, released in 1992, is the story of a diamond heist gone wrong and the violent aftermath that follows.
Adapted for the stage by Calgarian writer Trevor Rueger, the script follows what Scorpio artistic director and trained fight choreographer, Aaron Conrad, refers to as a “badass motif” that has been running through the company for some time.
“We’ve always been that company who will do that thing,” Conrad says. Also an actor, Conrad is taking on the role of the psychotic Mr. Blonde. “Whether that be nudity, violence or topical things, I think Reservoir Dogs is a great example of that. I mean it’s so iconic.”
The idea to stage Reservoir Dogs was first introduced to the company more than a year ago by director Keith Kollee. Once the production became a reality, Kollee says he started exploring how to take such a classic work and make it different, while still paying homage to what many consider as Tarantino’s best work.
“I firmly believe that Reservoir Dogs is one of the great American movies,” Kollee says. “The script is sensational, but like with every story, there’s a hundred different ways to tell it, and with this one, we needed to put our stamp on it.”
Tarantino is known for his films’ musical selections and unique brand of storytelling. He often favours time jumps and individually titled sections, as opposed to telling a linear story.
Reservoir Dogs is no exception. The film focuses various sections on each character’s recruitment, their eventual involvement in the heist and the bloody outcome — torture scene and all — while never showing the robbery itself.
With regard to time shifts, director Kollee says that while costume changes are going to be tough, theatre audiences can expect small blackouts and quick set changes as part of the experience. And, just like in Tarantino’s version, he and his team are using music to enhance their storytelling.
Violence, language and maintaining the cool
When it comes to the R-rated violence in the movie, artistic director Conrad – who’s been working heavily on the stunts and action sequences – points out how a lot of what’s implied in the film version occurs off camera, which isn’t a luxury the theatre has with the live adaptation.
“It’s interesting how everybody remembers the violence in the film differently than how it was portrayed,” Conrad says. “I mean, everybody remembers the ear thing, right? But [Tarantino] cuts away from that. You don’t actually see it getting cut off.
“Of course, we can’t do that on stage. We can’t cut away from whatever violent thing we’re going to do. So, when we talk about ramping it up, it’s more of a, ‘No, you have to sit here and watch it. It’s right there. It’s 10 feet from you.’”
“I firmly believe that Reservoir Dogs is one of the great American movies.”
– Keith Kollee, Director
The same can be said for much of the film’s dialogue. The language is gritty, laced with profanity and is often times racist. Still, the production won’t shy away from the story. Conrad equates it to re-telling To Kill A Mockingbird and eliminating the N-word.
“That would be a horrible disservice to the story as it was being told,” continues Conrad. “As soon as you start picking stuff out because you’re worried about someone’s mom being uncomfortable, at some point you have to say, ‘No, this is the script.’”
Director Kollee says that so far, the biggest challenge has been “maintaining the cool” of Reservoir Dogs.
“The original script is like a thousand Fonzies,” Kollee says. “Being able to pinpoint why that is, and trying to maintain that has been the biggest challenge for me.”
“As an actor, it’s about dealing with how iconic these characters are,” Conrad adds. “I mean, I play Mr. Blonde. He’s an iconic character. You can look at almost anybody and say, ‘Torture you? That’s good. I like that,’ and they’ll know who you’re talking about and what he’s about to do.’”
Stuck in the middle with you
Preparing for the torture scene where a police officer falls victim to Mr. Blonde, has been hard on both Conrad and Scott Evans, the actor portraying officer Marvin Nash.
“You have to go to a dark place to sit down and say, ‘I’ve got a great idea that’ll be really cool. I’m going to do this horrifying thing to another person,’” Conrad says. “It’s draining. I’m walking off stage going, ‘I am exhausted and need a drink.’”
Director Kollee says that the reaction he’s gotten from people regarding the show has been one of surprise and excitement; people say they are impressed that Scorpio Theatre has the courage to tackle something as daring as Reservoir Dogs.
“A lot of the people I’ve talked to are getting excited about a play in a way that I haven’t seen people get excited about a play in a long time,” Kollee says.
General admission is $21, and student and senior tickets are going for $17. Tickets are available through Scorpio Theatre’s website, www.scorpio.ca. The show runs Feb. 28 to March 8 at the Pumphouse Theatre’s Joyce Doolittle Theatre.