Jennifer Clement

As audiences enter the Arts Club’s Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre, the stage is in a state of turmoil. An otherwise everyday living space is turned topsy-turvy by way of dining chairs knocked down, unopened gifts strewn about, a lamp tossed on the floor and a messy dining table void of a holiday feast.

The Day Before Christmas is a modern, tech-forward holiday story set in reverse, of how Christmas doesn’t necessarily jive with everyone. The cast cleverly turn back the clock to mid-November (when things began to turn ugly) by way of a quick musical interlude. Within moments, the family home’s interior is pristine.

Jennifer Clement, Andrew Wheeler
[Jennifer Clement, Andrew Wheeler]

This story is told through the eyes of busy mom/caterer Alex (Jennifer Clement), organizing a bustling client roster during the pre-holiday rush. She’s proud of the design magazine that features her thoughtfully-presented interiors each year.

Typical family banter introduces Alan, the dad (Andrew Wheeler) and the two kids, Max (Daren Dyhengco) and Brodie (Julie Leung). These kids have an Asian background, which made me wonder whether director Chelsea Haberlin (in her Arts Club directorial debut) had a modern tale in mind or that these two were available for the run of the play.

Daren Dyhengco, Julie Leung, Jennifer Clement, Andrew Wheeler

I find it odd that for a family-focused story of this nature the kids’ backstory doesn’t ever surface. No matter, they’re busy living their young lives, going about their own agendas as regular kids with their own first-world problems.

Adding to the mayhem are intermittent Skype calls from Alex’s annoyingly immature brother Keith (Jay Hindle), who adds his own family issues to the mix leading up to Christmas.

Curtis Tweedie, Andrew Wheeler

Jennifer Clement is solid in her role as mompreneur while Andrew Wheeler gets some of the best lines in the play, garnering comedic success. The above observation aside, talented young actors Daren Dyhengco and Julie Leung complement one another in their brother-sister roles.

Drew Facey’s set is spot-on in portraying a modern Vancouver home; Itai Erdal’s lighting adds a festive atmosphere to the stage. Projection Designer Joel Grinke brings us all the tech via two large video screens on two ends of the three-sided stage.

Putting on my honest reviewer’s hat here, I really wanted to love this play, especially as it starts out so promising. While The Day Before Christmas will suit all audiences and keep the evening light, the story is just not that compelling (plus those irritating Skype calls which IMHO gets old after awhile).

Julie Leung, Daren Dyhengco, Jennifer Clement, Andrew Wheeler

I won’t spoil the end if you’re planning on seeing it (many performances are close to being sold out), however I’d pinned my hopes on a wonderful, magical (perhaps dramatic) finale to match the story’s frenzied style.

Perhaps that’s the beauty of the holidays — there isn’t always a perfect ending, especially when it comes to family.

Directed by Chelsea Haberlin, The Arts Club’s The Day Before Christmas continues at the Arts Club’s Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre through December 24. Photos by David Cooper.

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