by Steven Berkoff
Carousel Theatre Studio
Granville Island

Since ‘tis the season to be not only jolly but sentimental and even saccharine, methinks a bracing dash of realistic gloom might provide some welcome dissonance. Cut to Granville Island, where Carousel Theatre is presenting A Christmas Carol at the Waterfront. Right across the street, ironically, in Carousel’s own building,
(r)evolution theatre company is staging the anti-Christmas Carol. A bitter antidote to the sweet, British playwright Steven Berkoff’s Harry’s Christmas says “humbug” to every conceivable notion of Yuletide cheer. And unlike Dickens’ Scrooge, Berkoff’s Harry doesn’t recant. This play dares to say that Christmas time is simply the most depressing time of the year.

Four days before Christmas, alone in his dismal flat talking to himself, 45 year old Harry stares at the measly six Xmas cards he’s managed to amass. He realizes they make up the sum of his wasted, insignificant life: “Christ was born so I can count my cards.” Sitting in his naugahide chair in front of the TV he hates because it reminds him of his mother sitting alone in her flat in front of her TV, Harry is tormented by the season’s demands—be happy, socialize, celebrate. His only real connection with the world is the telephone, and much of the play’s one act is taken up with his trying to work up the courage to call an old girlfriend or a couple he barely knows. When he’s not talking about the phone he’s talking on it, often to his mother whom he ultimately betrays. Christmas minus three days is even worse, and as the play moves inexorably towards C-day, Harry’s desperation, loneliness and pain steadily intensify.

At moments—though not many—I was reminded of two of my favourite depressive literary loners: Dostoevsky’s Underground Man (“I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased”) and Beckett’s Krapp, who replay their failed lives over and over, picking at the scabs and relishing the pain while trying to find some explanation for their own futility. The key to those texts is the literary artistry that transforms and transcends the depressing subject matter. Berkoff, I’m sorry to say, shows little such artistry here, and the result is not just depressing but dull. Harry’s monologue and stage actions are prosaic, repetitive, unimaginative and banal.

As Harry, Tim Hine commits admirably to the character’s growing desperation, but it would take an extraordinarily accomplished actor to make this material more compelling. Co-directors Jonathan Ryder and John Murphy, who collaborated on last year’s darkly brilliant The Heretic, written and performed by Murphy, offer little help. They’d have been better off writing their own dyspeptic downer. Jeez, I’m gonna go have a drink. Merry whatever.

Jerry Wasserman

Harry’s Christmas runs until December 25th. All shows at 8:00 p.m. Harry’s Christmas is the ONLY theatre show in Vancouver that will be playing on Christmas Day.

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:12 PM
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