Arts Club Theatre adds a new play to Vancouver's Holiday Theatre repertoire with Patron Saint of Stanley Park

Patron Saint of Stanley Park, written by
Hiro Kanagawa, is welcome addition to Arts Club Theatre's Vancouver's Holiday Theatre repertoire

The Patron Saint of Stanley Park
Arts Club Revue Theatre
written by Hiro Kanagawa
Starring Jillian Fargey, Brian
Linds, Derek Metz, introducing
Valsy Bergeron and Joseph Gustafson
Director Stephen Drover

Think of Christmas in Stanley Park, and we normally think Bright Lights Christmas Train… but if it was December 2006, there was an ice storm that destroyed many trees in Stanley Park.

Now imagine that a teen-aged girl and her techno-geek younger brother are going to Stanley Park to lay some flowers in memory of their father who mysteriously disappeared on Christmas Eve last year, while flying his seaplane to Vancouver Island while dressed in a Santa suit.  They are supposed to be taking the bus to their Uncle's Christmas Dinner on the North Shore.  But their mother is pre-occupied working two jobs.  They are each working out their grief in different ways, acknowledgement, denial and false hope.

We are introduced to Skookum Pete, a homeless man in Stanley Park, who speaks to the audience, breaking down the fourth wall.  Pete talks about the park, the weather, and about the voices he hears – through his fillings!  Brian Linds does a wonderful job playing Pete.  He is friendly and the audience quickly builds trust, while laughing with Pete at his distorted yet perceptive view of society.  Pete pushes a shopping cart and carries a torch with a cheese grater to protect his lantern.

Valsy Bergeron wonderfully plays the older sister Jennifer, on the brink of womanhood, looking out for her brother Josh, played by a young Joseph Gustafson.  They easily capture the family dynamics of push and pull, caught between Jennifer's rebellion against her mother, and her wish to memorialize her father.  Meanwhile Josh continually asserts that he believes that their father will turn up somehow, while recognizing that their mother is spending lots of her time at work.

The Arts Club has really developed a Christmas theatre repertoire for Vancouver.  “It's a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” are currently playing at the Granville Island Stage and the Stanley Industrial Arts Alliance Stage.  They have also brought original theatre to Vancouver for Christmas with Nicola Cavendish's “It's Snowing on Saltspring” and Ann Mortifee's “Reflections of Crooked Walking”, as well as “Beauty and the Beast” in past years.  

“The Patron Saint of Stanley Park” was commissioned to Vancouver area playwright/actor Hiro Kanagawa as part of the Silver Commission, helping to develop new work.  Kanagawa is probably more familiar to Vancouver television audiences on many Vancouver filmed shows such as Caprica, X-Files, Highlander,  Smallville (as Principal Kwan), and Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet In Heaven.  Kanagawa often appears on stage, and was recently in “After the Quake” at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.   His past work has also included “White Balance” and he wrote “Tiger of Malaya.”

This family Christmas tale fantastically integrates Science Fiction, mythology and Stanley Park icons.  It is amazing to think there once really was a signal tower and bunker on Prospect Point, as there houses along Brockton Point.  Kangawa wanted to incorporate elements of Vancouver such as seaplanes into the play, to help build Vancouver's own theatrical references and recognizability.  And the audience loves it!  People can relate to the huge trees in Stanley Park and imagine the trees crashing down during the infamous 2006 windstorm that dramatically re-arranged the landscape of the park.

The multi-leveled stage is plain, covered with grays.  At first it appears boring.  But it soon comes to life, full of surprises as “trees” drop from the ceiling, darkness envelopes the theatre during the storm sequence, and bright lights appear in unexpected places.  Stage direction is clever and inventive, making good use of the levels, and the projections into the audience.  I am also pleased to note that music is by Noah Drew, whom I've known since he was a child 24 years ago.  Drew has matured into one of the city's finest theatre sound composers.  His work is subtle and unobtrusive, while being ambient and enhancing to the action on stage.

The play development is good.  At the end of the first act, the children have been rescued during the storm by Skookum Pete, meanwhile their mother is frantic and trying to reach her children by phone.  This perfectly sets up the second act for revelations for each of the characters, as well as resolutions to their issues.  There are some wonderful surprises in the second act which I won't reveal.  This play is definitely suitable for families, as the young characters carry the play along with Skookum Pete.  But as expected of a Christmas play, we are encouraged to empathetically share emotions with the characters, and discover what makes Christmas meaningful for each of us, while recognizing what is also meaningful for others.

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