God, I hate these people—okay, these characters.
Act 1 of The Day Before Christmas digs itself into a deep hole artistically. Act 2 displays moderate improvement.
This new script by local writers Stacey Kaser and Alison Kelly features Alex, a busy Vancouver caterer—and Christmas obsessive. Every Christmas, Alex decorates her home in a new theme: last year it was “Christmas on the Orient Express”; this year, it’s “Russian fairytale”. Alex has photos taken of the final, perfect effect and uses them to promote her business.
Alex’s compulsiveness annoys her husband Alan and their two teenaged kids, Max and Brodie—but not nearly enough for the result to be realistic or dramatically effective. The script is trying to make the point that Alex overvalues the superficial, but, because Kaser and Kelly can’t bring themselves to forcefully criticize Alex’s behaviour, their comedy has little shape or bite. In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, it’s clear that Scrooge’s materialism is selfish and harmful but, in Kaser and Kelly’s The Night Before Christmas, Alex is a nice lady who has everybody’s best interests at heart; her emphasis is just off by a couple of degrees. Real Christmas obsessives are far more annoying to live with than Alex is. Believe me; I’ve been one. And, because, in the terms of the play, Alex has never really sinned, she’s never really redeemed either. There’s no great relief or celebration when she finally and inevitably sees the error of her ways.
Even when Alex does reform, her insight is stunted. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Alex and her family are a pack of bourgeois narcissists. Scrooge thinks outside himself: he recognizes the suffering of Tiny Tim and the rest of Bob Cratchit’s family. But, while Scrooge becomes generous, Alex stays selfish: she never thinks beyond the confines of her clearly well-heeled family and friends. She is bereft when some of her Swarovski crystal ornaments are damaged, but she never once considers the real suffering that’s just outside the door of her posh house. I wanted to strangle her with her newly ordered titanium Christmas lights.
Appropriately enough, Alex’s home, as designed by Drew Facey, is the definition of self-satisfied blandness. With its trendy horizontal lines, dull neutrals and woody accents, the space feels like a Crate and Barrel showroom. .
And then there’s the dog. This might be a bit of a spoiler but, at one point, a family member buys a puppy—which is relegated to the garage. I think it’s Alan, the husband, who makes the point that the dog will only have to stay in the garage until he’s socialized—and we all know how well a dog will get socialized in a garage.
By intermission, I was ready to euthanize the humans and rescue the pooch. Then, a tiny Christmas miracle occurred and Act 2 got a little bit better.
In the second act, a storyline about Alex’s flirtation with a celebrity client gains some traction. The ensuing crisis is forced and fast, but at least it’s something.
And, thanks largely to actors Jennifer Clement (Alex) and Andrew Wheeler (Alan), this crisis carries emotional weight. Throughout the evening, both actors do excellent work with the unrewarding material. Clement is one of the warmest and most emotionally resourceful performers in town and Wheeler almost makes credible the idea that a guy with two teenage kids has enough energy left over to be perpetually horny.
Director Chelsea Haberlin has cast very well all around. Clement and Wheeler are both white, but their characters’ kids (Darren Dyhengco as Max and Julie Leung as Brodie) are both Asian. The sum looks like a lot of Vancouver families, which is great. Dyhengco has a knack for spinning charm out of nothing, and Leung does her best with a character who’s completely one-dimensional as written. Curtis Tweedie hits just the right note of nerdy innocence as Brodie’s friend, Dirk. And Jay Hindle is probably fine as Alex’s brother Keith, who only appears via Skype, but that is such a mortally alienating convention that it’s hard to tell.
If you’re thinking of venturing out to the Arts Club’s BMO Theatre to see The Day Before Christmas, consider this: there’s already plenty of bad TV on TV. And, if you stay home, you could donate the money that you save to charity.
THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS By Stacey Kaser and Alison Kelly. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. An Arts Club production at the BMO Theatre Centre on Wednesday, November 30.
Get tickets by phoning 604-687-1644 or at http://artsclub.com/tickets/