Skip to main content

Three Wise Men (Neema Bickersteth, Sanjay Talwar, Jeff Yung), depicted in time-honoured fashion as actually quite foolish. They quarrel with one another about “dark matter” and the “space-time continuum” and how they ended up lost in 2012.

Handout

3 out of 4 stars

Title
The Story
Written by
Martha Ross
Genre
Play
Directed by
Jennifer Brewin
Actors
Haley McGee, Sanjay Talwar
Company
Theatre Columbus
Venue
At the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto (free shuttle from Broadview station)

Theatre Columbus seems to have started a new Christmastime theatrical tradition in Toronto. The Story, an offbeat nativity play written by Martha Ross, is now being performed for the second year in and around in the Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley.

Artistic director Jennifer Brewin, who won a Dora Mayor Moore award for the show's promenade staging last year, previously put on a number of outdoor winter works at B.C.'s Caravan Farm Theatre. Ontarians are relatively inexperienced with the joys of seeing plays in sub-zero temperatures, however, so some advice: Wear warm socks, buy a hot chocolate, and bring a friend to huddle with.

The Story is enjoyable in part because it feels connected to a long and somewhat lost theatrical tradition. Its staging and simple script makes it seem like a modern incarnation of a Mystery play, the medieval biblical pageants that predated playhouses. They were performed outdoors too, on a series of wagons – and while sometimes the stages moved, sometimes it was the audience that was ambulatory. In the Mystery cycles, various craft guilds tackled different stories from the Bible that would allow them to advertise their skills – the shipwrights' might tell the story of Noah, while nail makers tended to handle the crucifixion.

Story continues below advertisement

With that history in mind, it seems fitting that the nativity story should be performed in the spot where, though now a trendy farmer's market and brunch spot, the bricks used to build landmarks like Casa Loma and Massey Hall were once fired. ("No room at the inn? Have you considered buying your own bricks on layaway?")

The Story begins with a prologue starring the three wise men (Neema Bickersteth, Sanjay Talwar, Jeff Yung), depicted in time-honoured fashion as actually quite foolish. They quarrel with one another about "dark matter" and the "space-time continuum" and how they ended up lost in 2012.

We follow them out from the market area and into surrounding nature, lit evocatively and inventively by Glenn Davidson, serenaded on our way by a choir singing carols.

All the usual suspects soon show up in similarly clownish incarnations – a couple of bored shepherds watching their flocks by night; a romantic carpenter named Joseph (Yung again); and a confused but questioning Mary (Haley McGee).

Herod, with all his histrionic ranting, was the over-the-top biblical character medieval audiences loved to hate in the Mystery cycles. (Though Hamlet was not a fan, warning the players not to "out-Herod Herod.") Rylan Wilkie similarly steals the show as the vain ruler here; his preening, paranoid Herod is amusing in the manner of the best campy Bond villains.

Wilkie – a favourite Western Canadian actor I'm delighted to see pop up this side of the Prairies – also doubles wonderfully as a hapless angel Gabriel, who isn't quite sure how best to break the news to Mary that she's pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Gabriel – flailing around under a LED-lit halo – is not entirely sure what the Holy Spirit is and, while trying to explain the matter to Joseph in a dream, confuses the matter by breaking into HMS Pinafore.

Talwar proves a fine Beckettian clown, meanwhile, as a shepherd who stares up at the stars and ponders the meaning of life and the birth of jazz. In a nod to the late Dave Brubeck, he and fellow flock-watcher Bickersteth break into rendition of Take Five.

Story continues below advertisement

As The Story takes us past the frozen meadows surrounding the Brick Works, it becomes clear that Ross is not all that interested in the birth of baby Jesus, but in a more secular question: Why do we tell each other stories of hope and change, when hope always fades and change never comes? Why do we want to believe that a saviour will be born?

Ross's script can lay it on a little thick with its "we are looking for the story" shtick. Is this a nativity play or just naivete? But with its existential bent balanced by its warnings of the dangers of mandatory government censuses, The Story should please just about everyone part of the time. The little girl giggling maniacally on opening night seemed to like it, and helped the rest of us get into the spirit of the season.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies