Theatre Review: The Patron Saint of Stanley Park – a “skookum” addition to the holiday theatre season

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The homeless living in Stanley Park will come as no surprise to Vancouverites.  But Bigfoot and aliens?  In the fertile mind of playwright Hiro Kanagawa, all three live happily amongst the trees in The Patron Saint of Stanley Park, a family-friendly tale based on the stories of Saint Nicholas of Myra, protector of children and the real-life model for our modern Santa Claus.

Siblings Josh (Joseph Gustafson) and Jennifer (Valsy Bergeron) are struggling to cope with the loss of their father, Kevin (Derek Metz), who disappeared in a float plane accident the year before. When their mother, Marcia (Jillian Fargey), insists they spend Christmas Eve with relatives, the children set out to Stanley Park on their own to honour their father’s memory as a violent storm approaches. Trapped by the storm, Josh and Jennifer are rescued by Skookum Pete (Brian Linds) who takes them to a bunker beneath Prospect Point.

There is some fine acting going on in this contemporary fable under the direction of Stephen Drover.

Gustafson and Bergeron give us some wonderful brother and sister moments; as they wait for the bus to take them to Stanley Park they banter back and forth as naturally as any siblings might, with Bergeron providing the right amount of eye-rolling as Gustafon’s Josh talks of Bigfoot and aliens.  There is a palpable connection between the two as they talk about the loss of their father with Bergeron taking on the big sister role with ease as she helps prepare her younger brother for a reality where he isn’t coming back.

Linds’ Skookum Pete is the required larger-than-life character who, while receiving transmissions from the spirit world through his molars, still manages to breathe life into his rather fantastic character.  As the mother, Fargey gives just the right balance of strength and vulnerability and Metz emerges, even from the other side, as the loving father his children remember.

The Patron Saint of Stanley Park
Brian Linds in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Patron Saint of Stanley Park. Photo by David Cooper.

Set designer Naomi Sider gives an effective representation of the Stanley Park forests with large fabric banners representing the tree trunks that appear from the ceiling.  At times a number of the banners detached, falling to the ground as if they were ripped away by the storm.  The backdrop of plastic sheeting provides a wonderful sheen, evocative of the park’s temperate rain forest and plays a central role in one of the few “mysticalogical” moments of the evening.

I must admit that while I am a fan of the old saying “less is more”, in this instance I would have to say more is better.  We are rushed through Skookum Pete’s kooky spiritual processor and blinking Christmas lights above the audience illicit a reaction from the children that as an audience member I could not fully realize.  If ever there was an opportunity to amp up the theatre magic, it is here.

With some terrific performances, this localized tale of family, love and the true meaning of the Christmas spirit is a wonderful, dare I say “skookum”, addition to the holiday theatre season.

4 Out of 5 Stars The Patron Saint of Stanley Park

Written by Hiro Kanagawa.  Directed by Stephen Drover.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Arts Club Revue Stage, Granville Island through 26 December 2010.

Tickets are available online or by calling 604.687.1644.

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