It's a Wonderful Christmas-ish Miracle

I was inspired by the holiday rituals I know best, which are the movies so many of us watch—particularly A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. It struck me that a great way to explore the ways families negotiate change during the holidays would be a kind of contemporary mash-up of some of those iconic, ritualized holiday stories. — Marcus Youssef

Playwright Marcus Youssef’s brand-new Arts Club production, It’s a Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle, does exactly what the title states. The play is a dessert of whimsy and surrealism, set within the jelly mold of a split modern family.

It's a Wonderful Christmas-ish Miracle

Charming rifts by Sufjan Stevens are sprinkled throughout, adding layers of sadness, irony and levity. Sung by the multi-talented cast, the songs add a bittersweet finish to each scene transition. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is shown an alternative reality of events that never happened. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is guided by ghosts to choose an alternative future. In both movies, the men are given a second chance to set things right.

To modernize the story, it’s grandma Ester, as played by prickly but amiable Nicole Lipman, who’s in need of a second chance.

Deceased but robbed of her memories by Alzheimer’s, Ester is refused entry at the pearly gates of Heaven until she resolves her earthly unfinished business.

Guided by an effervescent Ghazal Azerbad, who plays career-climber angel Salena, Ester must unravel the knots of resentment that run through three generations of her family. The ghost of some toxic traditions should not be carried forward.

Heaven has also been given a modern twist. God has recently abdicated responsibilities to Aretha Franklin and a series of phone apps help ease the newly departed into the afterlife.

There is a profusion of nods to pop-culture and plenty of jabs at our absurd need to be politically correct. The references are especially witty to those who regularly consume social media. Anyone who plays video games will appreciate the chuckles during Act II.

Matreya Scarrwener, Nicola Lipman, Glen Gordon
[Matreya Scarrwener, Nicola Lipman, Glen Gordon]

Despite its high aspirations, the plot of the play is a bit bland. The flatly stereotypical characters consist of a quibbling divorced couple, two petulant children and a technophobic grandmother. The only unexpected injection is Azerbad’s bubbly, over-the-top display as the gatekeeper/angel, Salena. Undeterred by script shortcomings, the cast stretch their creative chops to deliver applaud-worthy performances in their respective roles.

The magnificent Jennifer Lines plays Ester’s recently divorced daughter, Miriam. She masterfully slings sour scowls and exasperated sighs at ex-husband Steven (Jovanni Sy) who must dodge the whizzing arrows of their complicated relationship.

Jennifer Lines, Ghazal Azarbad
[Jennifer Lines, Ghazal Azarbad]

Sy portrays a grounded and sympathetic Steven struggling to be a role model to his rebellious teenager daughter Chloe (Matreya Scarwener) and fragile son Simon (Glen Gordon). The character of Simon seems to be much younger than Gordon, but he manages to pull off a loveable depiction. Scarwener’s Chloe is the quintessential conflicted teenager — caustic, devastating and vulnerable.

By contemporary standards both A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life are fluffy, unbelievable tales, yet we love watching them all the same. 

Banal plot aside, the true delight of Youssef’s work lies in the intersection of the real world with the surreal, aided by an app, of course!

The play pokes fun at how the age-old storyline is complicated by modern technology and the incessant requirement to mollify anything that can be taken as an offence. Youssef’s vision is brought to life by Lauchlin Johnston’s sprawling, shiny set, consisting entirely of silver-foiled presents of every shape and size.

Matreya Scarrwener, Nicola Lipman

Conor Moore’s intuitive, breathtaking lighting adds texture, context and appeal to the monochromatic backdrop. Video design (Candelario Andrade) and sound design (Anton Lipovetsky) are critical to unite the multimedia elements of the production.

You can thank Olivier Lunardi for coordinating one of the most hilarious fight sequences you’ll see in a Christmas play.

It’s a Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle is a feel-good, light-hearted interruption during the frantic holiday (dare I say, Christmas) season that will probably not offend anyone. The only uncomfortable part of the play is the small-ish, cramped seats of the Goldcorp BMO theatre, where you can catch this production through December 22.  

Photos by David Cooper.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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