MORRISBURG – In this age of computer generated, neon-glitzy, prepackaged, assembly line Christmas entertainment, it’s easy to forget just how deeply appealing and how touching a real story about real people can be.
Ethan Claymore’s Christmas, running until December 15 at Upper Canada Playhouse, will help you to remember.
Norm Foster has a gift, as director Donnie Bowes, and all the actors in this production would agree, for writing dialogue “the way people really talk.” And he also creates people who are wonderfully real – funny, loving, annoying, flawed, fascinating.
Egg farmer Ethan Claymore is widowed: he lost his Jenny five years ago. He’s barely scraping by on his farm (with chickens who simply refuse to do their bit!) and, frankly, he’s not much into the Christmas spirit. Not even a charming new lady teacher in town, or the best efforts of a pocket tornado neighbour (“Lord knows, I’m not one to intrude!”) seem able to shake him from the holiday doldrums.
For Ethan, privately, Christmas also summons up sad memories of a rift with his late older brother, Martin, a break that was never healed in life.
Then, in one of those wonderful, supernatural traditions of the season, Foster’s comedy takes on a plot twist a little reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Who should suddenly ‘appear,’ as it were, in Ethan’s living room, but the very ghost of his brother Martin (pardon me, the “Shadow Being” of brother Martin!), a determined spectre with a task to fulfill, even if he isn’t too sure what that task is exactly.
Ethan is naturally taken aback to find himself haunted by late relatives on Christmas eve.
Martin: I have an assignment. If you wrong someone in life you have to set it right.
Ethan: Who did you wrong?
Martin: Ethan, I was a car salesman!
The righting of that certain wrong, going back to the event that “messed up” the brothers’ lives (revealed to the audience through a series of flashbacks featuring gifted young actors Gavin Veinotte, Liam McMahon and Jack Peets) will lead to some rather ‘miraculous’ changes in Ethan’s world.
Of course such changes won’t be easy, even at Christmas.
The audience is swept up in the laughter as Ethan must cope with his invisible companion (“Don’t distract me! Don’t even breathe.” “Well I haven’t for a week now.”), just as he must also deal with the challenges of the ‘real’ world.
Frankly, it isn’t easy to juggle the living and the dead. Ethan’s efforts to do so are hilarious, and often deeply touching.
An outstanding cast is one of this play’s great strengths.
Jesse Collins’ Ethan has been buffeted by life. “I started behind, and I just haven’t caught up.” Unassuming, even shy, he will come to discover the truth of something his father told him many Christmases ago: “Family and friends are the most important things in life.”
Sweeney MacArthur is Douglas, delightfully overbearing, out-rageously intrusive, hilariously blunt – and just the sort of neighbour anyone would be lucky to have. “Ethan, I’ve come to inform you your period of mourning is officially over.” He’s just not a man to take no for an answer.
Viviana Zarrillo is Teresa, the new school teacher, a woman who possesses an innocent heart, one hoping to finally find love. She has been sadly disappointed before. But now, to the audience’s fingers-crossed delight, Teresa may actually discover her true love in a small town egg farmer with the soul of an artist.
Jamie Williams’ character is a touch sardonic, ofttimes frustrated with the living, yet still a ghost (pardon me, Shadow Being!) on a mission. Being a SB cramps his style a bit, of course, but Williams’ Martin is ready to rise above it all whether he’s coaching, critiquing or cajoling his younger brother. Such is the magic of Foster’s Christmas tale that even this ghost can still learn a thing or two about life.
This show is full of joyous laughter, and the kind of warmth that tugs at your heart. We care about these people.
Ethan Claymore’s Christmas, now running at Upper Canada Playhouse, is an enchanting production, a play that celebrates life and love and the true meaning of the Christmas season.
Don’t miss it.