Arts & Culture

The magi among us

By Lorraine Graves

Published 12:27 PST, Wed December 11, 2019

Last Updated: 2:40 PST, Tue January 7, 2020

The wise men of the Christmas story, the magi were thought to be kings or astronomers from far away Persia who went on a quest, following a star to find the child laying in a manger at Christmas time. They are always portrayed as regal, wise and male. 

In local playwright Lucia Frangione’s award-winning version, Cariboo Magi, they are none of those things. The four leads, for whom their quest is a stage on Christmas Eve in gold rush-era Barkerville, are a pregnant young German woman, a multi-lingual orphan of unknown origins, a blousy French saloon owner, and a disillusioned minister who has just defrocked himself. 

Their quest, through the winter snows of the BC Interior, leads to self-realizations in what becomes a new nativity play, replete with misused Shakespeare quotes, a guide who speaks in the rhythm and rhyme of Robert Service, and the well-known bits of Scrooge’s monologues while one actor is in labour. She uses Bob Marley’s chains and bell to accompany her groans of pain, turning them into Bob Marley’s soliloquy. Somehow, it all works and works well. 

The colonizers meet the colonized in this mix-up Christmas story where the humour starts gently and ramps up until the moving conclusion. 

When Stephen Elcheshen makes his first entrance, his tone and body language command the stage. There is no doubt that he is the Rev. William Teller.

As Fanny DuBeau, Rose McNeil has to adopt a French accent but it’s lack of veracity and clarity presents problems. I always feel, better no accent at all if you can’t quite pull it off. Still, McNeil ably portrays Fanny’s drive to survive in this fish-out-of-water scenario as a Parisian transplanted to the deep snow and trails of settler-era British Columbia. 

Zach Running Coyote as Joe Mackey subtly and strongly weaves the threads that hold this unlikely acting troop together. He deftly embodies the character and his harmonica playing adds gentle grace notes that set the emotional scene more than once.  

Richmond’s Shelby Wyminga, who is also half of the producing team, shines. She is her character. Her German accent works. Her singing is clear and sweet. 

The play wraps up with a group song that moves and rouses the audience. We all left with a happy glow. 

One theatre-goer, who attends a multitude of plays, remarked that this was the first time this season that the birth of a baby, the baby, actually touched his heart.  

Cariboo Magi with deft writing and deceptively simple stagecraft, brings home the reason for the season. It makes us laugh uproariously before gently guiding us to the true meaning of Christmas. 

The Havanna Theatre is small, only 60 seats, and the run is short, so get your tickets early. If you buy in advance, you can have 15 per cent off your food bill at the adjacent Havana Restaurant, or you can use your ticket after the show to eat, nibble or take in a dessert there at a discount. 

We ate at the restaurant before the show. For $25 we were able to have one of their larger, sharable meals: half a spiced roast chicken on a bed of slow cooked onions and a side of roast cauliflower topped with chopped nuts and olives. Delish. It’s a great way to save cooking on a show night when you have to drive in the rain to Commercial Drive from Richmond. We had lots of time to savour our meal before wandering to restaurant’s door to the theatre. 

Cariboo Magi is worth seeing because it is a rollicking good time. It is also worth seeing to support the Wyminga sisters’ budding theatre company based in Richmond, Far From the Tree Productions. 

At the Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Dr. through Dec. 14. Tickets in advance through havanavancouver.com/theatre or at the theatre on a performance night. You can also download an electronic version of the program in advance at farfromthetreeproductions.com/current-production to save paper.

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