No offence to Charles Dickens, but not everybody wants to spend every year with Ebenezer Scrooge and his spectral pals as he learns about the true spirt of the season.
Thankfully, there is live holiday fare out there beyond A Christmas Carol – and here are a few examples opening this week in Canada.
Touchstone Theatre is currently producing a new Christmas-themed show called Lights, by Adam Grant Warren. Set in Newfoundland, it follows Evan, a wheelchair user, as he returns to his childhood home to spend the holidays with his mother, Nancy, who is trying to maintain her independence as she deals with the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Doesn’t sound like a particularly cheery show for this time of year (especially this year), but critic Jerry Wasserman of the indispensable site Vancouver Plays says it is “a thoughtful, funny, original take on the dealing-with-parent’s-dementia play.” His online review makes a convincing case to see it, as Christmas counterprogramming at least. It’s on until Dec. 12.
Another show I’d want to see if I were on the West Coast this week is the North American premiere of Snowflake, by popular British playwright Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Cock), which is playing at the Red Gate Revue stage on Granville Island courtesy of Mitch and Murray Productions from Dec. 10 to 23.
Variety magazine critic David Benedict called this play about a father and daughter’s reunion “a Christmas drama with a difference” when it premiered in 2019; it examines the impact of the Brexit vote from an original angle and has a contrived but enjoyable twist, according to Benedict.
Stage adaptations of Jane Austen novels have long been a cash cow for regional theatres, second only to holiday shows. Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon then may have created the most programmable play of all time with Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, their holiday-themed sequel to Pride and Prejudice that focuses on middle child Mary.
In Canada, this much-produced show has been staged at the Arts Club in Vancouver and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, and it now gets a run at Theatre New Brunswick this week.
Director Ryan G. Hinds’ production is being advertised as being influenced by Bridgerton – and the artists involved are certainly more diverse than you find in your average Austen. They are “Mi’kmaq, Black, Latino, trans, Acadian and white” – and from all four Atlantic provinces to boot, Hinds writes in an e-mail.
Miss Bennet plays at the Fredericton Playhouse from Dec. 9 to 11 and then on Dec. 12 at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John.
While the commercial theatre company Mirvish Productions is offering Easter-at-Christmas programming with a touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar, the city’s not-for-profit sector has mostly opted out of the usually lucrative holiday show market. It’s saving all its firepower for January, when theatre companies from Canadian Stage to Soulpepper to Tarragon are all planning to reopen their long-dormant indoor stages.
Second City Toronto, however, is finally back up and running in temporary digs on the Danforth in the new east-end outpost of Comedy Bar. The sketch-comedy institution’s holiday show is called The Fast and the Furiously Festive – and is made up mostly of scenes from the troupe’s fabled archives, performed by the touring company. It kicks off on Dec. 10.
Second City has also just started previews of a mainstage show called Welcome Back To The Future that is scheduled to run at least until March. It’s a mix of sketches that were first part of a show called CERB Your Enthusiasm (a much better title) that only played a very brief run in late 2020, plus some brand-new scenes and a few classics. I’ll be there on Thursday to review.
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