Holy Mo! There might actually be a point here

Holy Mo! A Christmas show is playing at Pacific Theatre

Playwright Lucia Frangione burdens Holy Mo! A Christmas Show with references that mean much more to her than they do to me

I wrote a whole other version of this review before I realized that Holy Mo! A Christmas Show actually has a point. I suspect that’s because playwright Lucia Frangione is speaking an almost private language.

In her new script, Frangione retells the story of the birth of Christ using clown characters. The playwright herself plays Follie, the leader of a little troupe that also includes the depressive Guff, and Buffoona, an innocent who really wants to believe in Santa.

The storytelling is quirky. As the three clowns spin their tale, Herod becomes Santa Claus, complete with a Santa hat. Herod’s estranged partner Madge calls herself the Magi, which she explains by saying, “I no longer go by the singular. I go by the plural.”

Through Madge, Frangione mocks the New Age tendency to hide out in narcissism. Madge has written Starborn, a book about self-actualization, and she sanctimoniously licks kale and turmeric lollipops. But Frangione presents Madge’s professed bliss as fake, as a denial of loneliness and an avoidance of pain.

In the play’s penultimate passage, Frangione returns to the theme of denial. Her character Follie insists on including one of the most horrific—and ignored—chapters of the Christmas story, Herod’s slaughter of male infants as he tried to eliminate the Messiah.

Only by embracing the whole truth, Frangione says, can we know true joy. It’s not an original idea, but it’s worth repeating.

A whole bunch of choices feel random, though. Why make Herod into Santa? Herod’s not exactly the embodiment of consumerism. And I get the point about New Age denial, but why is it the wise men that Frangione makes, collectively, into a single New Ager? Are their gifts really that suspect? For the average theatregoer, how much value is there in questioning the accepted symbolism of those gifts?

Throughout Holy Mo!, there’s so much theatrical static, so much interference, that it feels rambling and largely incoherent. Mary acquires a feline protector that bears a striking resemblance to Puss in Boots from the Shrek franchise. The cat seems to be included mostly so that it can tell Mary that it is her Magnificat, a musical reference I had to look up. For no good reason, the characters often speak in doggerel. The evening includes lots of songs; they’re sweetly sung but melodically dull and lyrically unrewarding.

The play also goes on theoretical tangents. Getting all metatheatrical, Follie challenges the primacy of the hero in traditional storytelling. Because Follie is recounting the birth of Christ, this idea has some heft. The essential beauty of the Christmas narrative is that it’s about the gift of a child, the gift of innocence and vulnerability. You’d never know it looking at American evangelism but, embracing the weak, despised and excluded, the lepers and prostitutes, the victims of war as opposed to the perpetrators of war, the economically disenfranchised rather than the heroes of commerce, is what Christianity all about.

But that’s all really frickin’ heady; when Frangione lapses into theory, it feels like she’s indulging private obsessions—or grievances; she defiantly resists the idea of predetermined plot points—rather than sharing a coherent, compelling, narrative.

Some of the play’s wacky humour works. Mary is presented as “a local girl with an overbite and a lazy eye.” When the other kids in Nazareth tease her—“Mary’s a virgin!”—she shoots back, “You’re just jealous because I’m an overachiever.”

Anita Wittenberg, who plays Guff, is an admirably focused performer. Even when I didn’t know what was going on in the play, I believed that it was profoundly important to Guff.

Set designer Heipo Leung achieves some pleasing effects with warm, retro light bulbs and sparkling fibre optics.

When Follie is defending her storytelling approach—and, presumably, Frangione’s—she says, “I don’t have a point. I have a circle.” Frangione’s story does have a point, however. The problem is that she has buried it in a maze.

HOLY MO! A CHRISTMAS SHOW By Lucia Frangione. Directed by Kerry van der Griend. A Pacific Theatre production at Pacific Theatre on Friday, December 2.

Get tickets by phoning 604-731-5518 or at https://tickets.pacifictheatre.org/TheatreManager/1/login&event=0

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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