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by Lucia Frangione

Dates and Venue 23 Nov-30 Dec Pacific Theatre (1420 W 12th Ave)

Reviewer Ed Farolan


It's good to have a Christmas show set in B.C., and quite enjoyable to see this remount of the 2001sold-out production. In her notes, Frangione mentions that she was inspired to write this play after a Lamb's Players workshop she attended in San Diego in 1998.

A year later, while she was performing at Barkerville's Historical Park, she was asked by Lamb's Players to write "an historical, comical, non-musical, four person, nativity-oriented Christmas touring show". Inspired by Barkerville historical characters during the gold rush in 1870, she came up with the story of a touring troupe invited by the Theatre Royal in Barkerville to do a nativity play there.

The play opens in San Diego where Madame Fanny Dubeau (Lucia Frangione) is worried about losing her saloon after her theatre company took off leaving her with debts. She then receives a letter from B.C.'s gold-rush boomtown offering her troupe to perform there. She thinks at first that this is a theatre down in Colombia, South America, but then finds out from a Canadian actor/poet, Joe Mackey (Parnelli Parnes), that this is British Columbia, not Colombia.

She recruits the all-too-often drunk Englishman, Reverend William Teller (Dirk Van Stralen), an almost nine-month pregnant German immigrant, Marta Reddy (Elizabeth Pennington), and Mackey, a multilingual Canadian whose ancestry is unknown. Parnes was perfectly cast for this role because he looks Asian and Indian, which is eventually getting to be the new "face" of British Columbians.

The journey to Barkerville is scenically portrayed with an ingenious set of Kevin McAllister. The set starts off as a wooden platform in the San Diego saloon, then folded to look like a boat as the characters sail north, then a covered coach, a sleigh, a tent, and even a camel.

The shadow lighting as they rehearse lines from Hamlet, Last of the Mohicans and Christmas Carol inside the tent is just simply a brilliant concept.

They finally arrive in Barkerville on Christmas eve, and are asked to do the Nativity Play according to the Gospel of St. Luke. Fanny has no idea who St. Luke is and makes a pun with "look" instead. What follows is a wild, chaotic, and really hilarious improvisation of the play with pieces from Shakespeare intertwined with Last of the Mohicans and Scrooge as the actors hurriedly change from costume to costume (colourfully plotted by Nicole Bach), and finally, Marta who plays Mary gives birth to Jesus offstage. The last scene is a moving one with Marta/Mary holding her baby and singing "Silent Night" in German.

Pacific's mission is to present plays with Christian undertones, and this turns off a lot of viewers, thinking that shows produced by this company will end up being boring evangelical fire-and-brimstone plays. But this isn't so. Frangione's play is a good example of making fun of Christians. She parodies both Catholics and Protestants including clerics.

Furthermore, actors and designers hired by Pacific Theatre are well-known in Canada's theatre world--Shakesperean actor Parnelli Parnes, comic actor Dirk Van Stralen (also a cartoonist and illustrator with Georgia Strait), TV/Theatre actress Elizabeth Pennington, Director/Actor Kerry Van Der Griend, Scene Designer Kevin McAllister and playwright/director and actress Lucia Frangione.

This is the kind of play that combines actors' talents with a director's and scene designer's ingenuity; and although there were a few glitches on opening night, such as some of Frangione's French wasn't articulated enough, or Parnes' lines not well-projected, all in all, I'd say this was an excellent and well-written play and deserved all the awards that went with it.

© 2006 Ed Farolan