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.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
thanks colin
nice to see this production get the review it deserves. would be nice to see the same even handedness with other artsclub reviews. production quality is one thing, but entertainment value is what audiences are looking for. this show is a lame duck and is easy to "shoot" for audiences and critics alike.
Rating: +14
It's so utterly boring and uninteresting. I don't understand why local theatre companies put stuff like this on and then wonder why they go bankrupt.
Rating: 0
And what's up with all the seasonally appropriate entertainment? Can't theatre companies leave Christmas to the elves? What about some ancient Greek drama (played straight) instead. That might wake us up!
Rating: -3
Magic Duck
Here's the thing Rf: The Arts Club probably doesn't go bankrupt BECAUSE they produce this mediocre holiday entertainment. The night we went the place was practically sold out. It's a money maker. So is Mary Poppins. So was White Christmas. The last show we saw there (the excellent Venus In Fur) wasn't even half full. Arts Club is catering to a demand. And Vancouverites are lining up around the block, voting with their dollars, and what are they saying?

"I only see one show a year and I'll be damned if it's going to be something thought provoking or insightful! I want to take the whole family to terrible seasonal entertainment!"

I don't think it's fair to simply blame the Arts Club for producing this doggrel. What about the consumers? The fly-by-night theatre-goer who thinks Snowing on Saltspring is culture? Sadly, in this town, Snowing On Saltspring will probably beat Oedipus every time, hands down. And you can't blame the Arts Club for that.
Rating: +11
Oh, this show was dismal. Great actors, horrid script. But Magic Duck, I would say it's possible to produce a holiday show that isn't as tasteless as this. I saw It's a Wonderful Life in its second year and I was delighted. Wonderful actors, touching show (I don't even like the movie and I was sniffling), outstanding production value, deserved its sold-out houses. I say, give the masses the holiday show that they want, but make it beautiful.
Rating: +10
@Magic Duck,

An incisive analysis, sadly. I hope it isn't pissing into the wind to wonder what would it take for some larger proportion of Vancouver audiences to reject the doggerel and embrace Oedipus.
Rating: 0
doesn't work
just went from Bad to Worse. I thought productions shows (local) would be entertaining in this town, Boy was I wrong. Vancouver is not the place. its sad to say, but true.
Rating: -1
To "doesn't work" (and everyone):
Please, PLEASE don't take a single production by the Arts Club as an indication of the quality of culture in this town. They are just one voice. This show does not exemplify the character of the arts in our community. (it would be like watching a single episode of "Big Bang Theory" and concluding "Man, TV sucks these days"). The Arts Club will do well with this show. But the "Big Bang Theory" also does well. Does not mean it's good or that there are no other options.
And it certainly is NOT an accurate reading of the arts temperature in this town
Rating: +1
To Marlon et. al.

A quick search of the NYT theatre listings confirms around 250 (Off Broadway only) shows happening right now. As a generous estimate NYC has 20 million people, or is roughly ten times the size of Metro Vancouver. Right now the Straight lists 12 theatre shows, or fewer than half of what NYC has proportionally.

Visual Art in this town is also shameful. It is nearly ALL Jeff Wall, Emily Carr and First Nations carving. What happened to global art from around the world? Did you know that the musuem of ethnology in Berlin has a better collection of BC art than BC does?

Have you seen what Boston can do culturally with a city of roughly the same size? Where are the millionaires in Vancouver who want to buy culture with their millions?

Vancouver culture sucks! It is a paradise for philistines.
Rating: -6
Hazlit: I was just in NY. There are not 250 shows playing. Broadwaybox currently lists only 157, and some of those are pre-sales for shows opening in the spring like the If/Then. Of the off-Broadway shows most are complete shit. It was a stretch to pick 10 new shows that I wanted to see (I avoided long runners like Chicago) and even then I ended up sitting through a couple crappy productions (avoid Ethan Hawke as Macbeth!!). So don't go off on how great NY is. Yes the great theatre there is stupendous (Patina Miller in Pippin = genius + life changing) but there's more misses than hits. Considering the small number of productions we have in Vancouver we are lucky that so many are so good. Did you see the wonderful UBC student production of Pride and Prejudice? As good as Broadway for my dollars - better! since it was only $22 instead of $120! How about Vancouver Opera's Albert Herring? Gorgeous set and great singing. Before you shit all over the arts in Vancouver, I wonder how much you actually have even bothered to see?
Rating: +5
Thanks Shawn. Yes, Hazlit's problem is that he is reductive and negative. Culture requires participation. If Hazlit's idea of participating in Vancouver's cultural scene is to simply check the Straight listings (no offense to the Straight), then his judgment only counts for so much.
Try a little harder, Hazlit. Participate. Snoop around. Independent artists are spread thin; they can't afford to attract your transient attention with full-page newspaper advertisements and banners on the Granville bridge. Remember when you were a kid and you found on your very own, a book or an album or a picture that moved you? The reward lied not in it being served to you, but in your discovering it.
But here, I'll even give you a headstart: What about Main Street Theatre's just-closed sell-out production of "The Odd Couple"? Or Hardline's recent and moving "Of Mice and Men"? Both went up at Little Mountain Gallery. Keep an eye out for these companies; they're doing good work, but yeah, you probably will miss their runs if you simply flip open a page of one publication once a week.

As for comparing Vancouver's theatre scene to New York's, or any other American city, let's stop. We're in Vancouver. We're Canadian. We have a different sensibilities, different perspectives, different funding systems. Sure, it's nice to see the shows that are hot out east, as produced by the Arts Club. Sometimes they're good, often they're subpar. So if we base our impression of our theatre scene only on what the Arts Club is doing, we'll often feel subpar (or as Hazlit would prefer, "sucky")
The truth is, we're a young city, and we need to be where we're at. We're never going to measure up if our rule is New York, or Boston, or any other city you care to name. Stop bemoaning the current state of our cultural scene and support the young artists who are working on making it better. This is where we live, so be here!

It's wonderful that the Arts Club, and Bard on the Beach too, are thriving and have received recent boosts in funding/facilities. But now, where it's at for Vancouver theatre, is the small scene. And how exciting.
Rating: +2
Totally agree with Kaye. There are tons of great smaller companies in Vancouver who just don't get the recognition (or media attention) they deserve but are producing quality work. Hopefully one day they'll have the infrastructure to get the public's attention. But until then you've got to do some digging. But here's some help:
-Neworld Theatre
-Solo Collective
-Rumble Theatre
-The Only Animal
-Twenty Something Theatre
-ITSAZOO Productions
-Hardline Theatre
-Delinquent Theatre
-Urban Ink
-Pacific Theatre
-Upintehair Theatre
-Main St. Theatre
Just to name a few. Go to their websites. Sign up for the news letters. Find them on Facebook and Twitter. And then you can: see what the boundary pushing, exciting, next generation of theatre markers are up to; support established companies who have a history of strong work but don't have the reach of Arts Club or Bard or The Cultch.
Rating: +12
I could not agree more with the reviewer. We walked out as it got more childish in the second half. farting reindeers! Really? We have never left a production before the end before and we never felt the the need to tell the box office person what a waste of time and money it was (she could care less). Too bad.
Rating: 0
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