Bill Millerd reaches deep inside his Christmas stocking as the Arts Club Theatre Company presents Nicola Cavendish’s It’s Snowing on Saltspring this holiday season.
First seen in 1985 on the now closed Arts Club Seymour Street stage, It’s Snowing on Saltspring has thankfully been updated with some current references (guess which Russian president is on Santa’s naughty list this year?) but its basic story remains intact.
Saltspring tells the story of the Bannisters who have given up life in the big city for a quieter existence on the Island after Bill, a dentist, has a breakdown from having worked at a job with one of the highest suicide rates. With an overdue baby and a lack of direction in his life, Bill relapses to his days of stress shoplifting and starts to get a major case of cold feet about the possibility of parenthood. In his current funk Bill gobbles down boxes of Viva Puffs, wishes for pizza rather than turkey and proudly unveils one of the oddest crèches this side of South Park. Ending up on the couch on Christmas Eve after a fight with his wife, it takes an overnight trip to the North Pole for Bill to finally realize the true meaning of the holidays.
With the exception of Andrew McNee, who wonderfully flips between the droll and depressed dentist to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of his inner child, the other actors in Cavendish’s story play double-duty, reminiscent of Dorothy’s encounters on her visit to Oz and where the bulk of the silliness takes place.
Joel Wirkkunen gives a delightful turn as the Pastor from the local Unitarian Church and the big man in the red suit who has been affectionately nicknamed “Crumpet Drawers” by Mrs. Claus. Deborah Williams plays wife to both Pastor and Claus, oozing such a bright enthusiasm that it just may require sunglasses. Beatrice Zeilinger is delightfully eccentric as the social outcast Bernice and head elf Grindle and Juno Rinaldi rounds out the cast with great big heart as the understanding wife Sarah and another of Santa’s helpers.
There is a dichotomy inside the show though with its decidedly adult humour (if one includes penis AND fart jokes in the adult realm) and the childlike fantasy sequence at the North Pole. There were few kids opening night, despite a lack of any PG warnings, but there were two young girls who were so fascinated by Bill’s visit to the North Pole that they were literally crawling out of their seats to get a better look. From the look on their faces they would have gladly taken Bill’s place on Santa’s lap in a heartbeat.
Michael Rinaldi’s sound design is hands down one of the best at the Arts Club in recent memory and Darryl Milot pulls out all the stops for his costumes at the North Pole. And while Ted Roberts captures the realistic look and feel of the Saltspring home, as we move to the North Pole it is obvious that Millerd spent most of his budget over at the Stanley this year.
I end this review as they did in act two, with a couple of rhymes and a Christmas wish for you:
All kinds of silly and not without cheese, The Arts Club’s Snowing on Saltspring still manages to please. And as my friend Jessie declared opening night, this show has enough heart to make it all right. And so my dear friends, as we get closer to that day, let the lessons this play teaches help show you the way.
By Nicola Cavendish. Directed by Lois Anderson. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through December 28, 2013. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.