It’s Snowing on Saltspring doesn't work
By Nicola Cavendish. Directed by Lois Anderson. An Arts Club production. At the Granville Island Stage, on Thursday, December 5. Continues until December 28
I suppose we can always be optimistic and hope that the Arts Club will never produce It’s Snowing on Saltspring again.
First performed in 1985, Nicola Cavendish’s script is about Bill Bannister, a disenchanted dentist who lives on Salt Spring Island—or Saltspring, as this show would have it—with Sarah, his overdue, pregnant wife. Bill’s mom and dad split up violently at Christmas when he was a kid, so he’s seasonally grumpy and generally freaked out about commitment. Then Santa shows up and takes him to the North Pole, and you can figure out the rest.
There’s a slapdash wackiness and sentimentality about the script that, in the past, have sometimes made the show fun and even moving, in fits and starts. When Cavendish played the role, for instance, Bernice Snarpley, the island’s lesbian real-estate agent, was a fountain of outrageous eccentricity and heartache.
But, in other hands, Cavendish’s sensibility emerges as an unsettling combination of mawkishness and vulgarity. In a passage that tugs unsuccessfully at the heartstrings, everybody sits around and sings a little Christmas hymn, for instance. But there’s also a big chunk about Santa’s elves farting. And Sarah’s friend Martha tells a pointless joke about a man with five penises: “His pants fit like a glove.” It’s not that this material’s offensive; it’s just sophomoric.
Partly because director Lois Anderson’s production lacks the freewheeling, let’s-see-what-we-can-get-away-with, Christmas panto vibe, the script’s many flaws don’t come close to being forgivable. The folks at the North Pole, for instance, speak in execrable doggerel. Even Bill succumbs. Adding further redundancy to an already obvious notion, he chimes: “I guess you could say that I’m running away/Not facing the things I avoid every day.” At least that couplet scans.
In the talented cast, Beatrice Zeilinger tries to bring some dignity to Bernice, but the results are disappointingly subdued. Joel Wirkkunen has fun as Santa. And Andrew McNee, who plays Bill, is a terrific comic actor: he captures the character’s essential innocence and he contributes some inventive physical business.
Not even this company can make the material work, however. It’s Snowing on Saltspring is old and very, very tired. It’s time to shoot it.