Holiday at the Elbow Room Café: Not a vacation you want to go on

Zee Zee Theatre is presenting Holiday at the Elbow Room Café in The Cultch's Historic Theatre.

This guy: David Underhill (centre) with Emilie Leclerc and Emma Slipp.
(Photo by Tim Matheson)

Where’s the script? It feels like playwright Dave Deveau has forgotten to write one.

Act 1 of Holiday at the Elbow Room Café is just a set-up that doesn’t make sense: a small group of characters gets trapped inside the once iconic, now shuttered Vancouver eatery. They’re inside on Christmas Eve when a plough drives past and blocks the door with snow. Like that would ever happen. As if no one would walk past. As if phones don’t exist. And, in terms of plot, that’s it. That’s the first act.

In real life, Patrice Savoie and Bryan Searle ran the Elbow Room. In Act 2, Patrice complains that he’s missing the annual Christmas spectacular and the other characters decide to create their own little show for him. That’s almost like a plot, but there’s no reason to care about it: Deveau gives us no inkling why the spectacular is so important to Patrice — or why he can’t get out the door, really — so there is zero dramatic tension. What looks like the beginning of a plot is just an excuse to trot out even more Christmas songs with rewritten lyrics, which is already all we’ve been listening to through Act 1.

And it’s not like any of this is witty. One of the characters is a good ol’ girl from Tennessee. Her name is Tabby, but Patrice repeatedly calls her Stabby. Repeatedly. Like again and again and again. There’s a lot of thuddingly dumb sexual innuendo, including an overworked bit about nine inches of snow. And, when a young delivery man from Amazon arrives — he’s found a door somewhere — he comes trailing endless jokes about handling packages and putting your fingers in boxes. Honestly, I like dirty, but it’s got to come with at least a bit of surprise.

There are a few original songs by the way. Kind of. Those “originals” are actually recycled from 2017’s Elbow Room Café: The Musical.

So the great majority of the material is a waste of time.

But Marina Szijarto’s outsized costumes are fun. And this production includes some very nice performances. One of them is a mini miracle. It always astonishes me that actors can survive and even thrive in scripts like this.

Joey Lesperance nails the vocal mannerisms of the real-life Patrice Savoie. And Emma Slipp is having an infectiously good time as Tabby. She starts off Act 2 with a smoky — and playful — rendition of “Jingle Bells”. But the guy who really knocked me out is David Underhill, who’s playing Brindon Ignatieff, the Amazon delivery man. Underhill has excellent clown skills. A lot of that has to do with his physical focus and commitment to irrationality. So, when Patrice wonders aloud if the other characters might be ghosts, for instance, Brindon, the innocent, stares at his hand and seriously considers the possibility. There’s an island of delight in the middle of Act 2, in which Brindon sings a song about dreidels and ladles while imitating different choreographic styles.

At the end of Act 2, Holiday at the Elbow Room Café wanders around self-consciously searching for both an ending and a moral. I don’t know if it will help, but I learned two things from this show: 1) None of my friends need to see it. 2) I’m going to be watching out for David Underhill.

HOLIDAY AT THE ELBOW ROOM CAFÉ By Dave Deveau. Featuring songs from Elbow Room Café: The Musical by Dave Deveau and Anton Lipovetsky. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Zee Zee Theatre production presented by The Cultch. In The Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Thursday, December 12.  Continues until December 29. Tickets.

 

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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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