— Joseph Gustafson and Derek Metz in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Patron Saint of Stanley Park. Photo by David Cooper..
THE PATRON SAINT OF STANLEY PARK
(This is Jerry's review of the original Arts Club production from December 2010.)
Hiro Kanagawa’s new Christmas play, the latest in a series of admirable Arts Club commissions from local playwrights, struggles a little to find its feet. But when it does, The Patron Saint of Stanley Park proves a sweet and moving holiday treat. They are four feet, actually, holding up two of the best young performers you’re going to see on any stage this year.
At the centre of the play is a strange homeless man, Skookum Pete (a grizzled Brian Linds), who addresses the audience on Christmas Eve. He lives beneath Prospect Point in Stanley Park, may not be entirely real, and has an annoying propensity to receive radio signals from float planes through his teeth—annoying to him and to the audience because of Noah Drew’s screechy sound design. Mysteriously, Pete seems to be receiving signals from a plane that disappeared exactly a year earlier. That plane was piloted by Kevin (Derek Metz), who will eventually turn up as a ghost, a fantasy or perhaps a Christmas miracle. I don’t think I will have spoiled anyone’s suspense; it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise.
Kevin’s family is still grieving over his disappearance: wife Marcia (the wonderful Jillian Fargey), teen daughter Jennifer (Valsy Bergeron) and precocious 11-year old son Josh (Joseph Gustafson). Marcia, who has her own grief issues, struggles to keep the kids from spinning out of control. Jennifer, experiencing the usual adolescent horribles in addition to her anger and grief, lashes out at her mom and brother. Josh channels his sense of loss into elaborate fantasies of UFO plots and Bigfoot (who may turn up in the anything-goes world of this play). When Josh and Jennifer head to Prospect Point to pay homage to dad’s memory and get caught in the storm of the century, Skookum Pete rescues them and ... well, it’s a Christmas story.
Notwithstanding the fantasy and special effects (Conor Moore’s low-budget lighting is spectacular; Naomi Sider’s impressionistic forest set not so much), Kanagawa’s writing and Stephen Drover’s direction are most effective in the realistic scenes between mother and daughter and brother and sister. Bergeron and Gustafson are simply outstanding, offering crisp, detailed performances mature beyond their years and finding strong chemistry with Fargey. They seem like real kids in a real family—not an easy thing to achieve in a genre piece like this.
Both play and production struggle in places. Pete’s character takes up too much space for what is essentially a catalyst, and hasn’t a clear enough reality. And no one has yet figured out a way to achieve an elegant set design in the renovated Revue Theatre. But the heart of this holiday piece is in the right place. Love saves the day.