Vancouver TheatreSports League gets a little holly-jolly in Off-White Christmas: An Improvised Holiday Comedy Show

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A Vancouver TheatreSports League production. At the Improv Centre on Saturday, November 19. Continues Thursday through Saturday until December 23

As the slush hits the 604, ’tis the season for a new Vancouver TheatreSports League production. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on what you think of the holidays—the local institution’s latest seasonal production, Off-White Christmas: An Improvised Holiday Comedy Show, is not a big departure from the standard fare you can find at the Improv Centre on Granville Island any other time of the year. It’s just the usual improv games built around holly-jolly suggestions in the first half, followed by a made-up festive musical production after the intermission. It’s a shame VTSL trots out many of the same games for every production when the online Improv Encyclopedia lists 516 different ones.

But oh what fun it is to laugh and listen to them sing anyway. And most of the laughs were intended. Some, though—on opening night, anyway—were as a result of the group dynamics on stage.

TheatreSports, according to its website, is meant to be “a highly theatrical fusion of the dramatic elements of comedy and tragedy coupled with the enthusiasm and edge-of-your-seat excitement of professional sport”. Maybe it’s because I’m jonesing for the locked-out NBA players to get back to work, but I couldn’t help but view the festivities through basketball-tinted lenses.

Up-and-coming improviser Shaun Stewart was the brash rookie who wanted to prove he was up for the job by hogging the ball and hoisting up every shot, while the hilariously understated veteran David Milchard was the sulking superstar taking only a few shots to prove a point. Although when he did shoot, it was nothing but net.

Stewart established early in the 90-minute show that he was going to be the first in at every given opportunity. And when no opportunity presented itself, he created one. Thankfully he’s a funny guy and most of his choices worked, but improv functions in the same way as sports, where the team that gets everyone involved usually performs better.

Still, that on-stage power struggle was amusing to witness. Once, during the second-set musical, Milchard decided to enter a business-meeting scene early and was followed immediately by his nemesis, who predictably started talking first. So off walked Milchard, who had been upstaged all night. When the larger-than-life Pearce Visser, who was playing an evil toy magnate, asked, “Where’d the other guy go?”, Milchard returned saying, “Oh, I thought I wasn’t needed.”

Later, Graeme Duffy, acting as the narrator, tried his best to get others engaged by directing Stewart out of the scene, saying Stewart’s character had to go because he had an appointment. And Duffy had some more fun with the “brash rookie” by making two of Stewart’s concocted characters have a conversation with each other, essentially saying, “You want to do everything? Well, here you go.”

Meanwhile, Ellen Kennedy and Elizabeth Bowen stayed above the fray and provided a nice counterbalance to the rivalry with well-timed jokes and singing that was almost too good for a joke musical.

Off-White Christmas is no slam dunk, but if you’re a fan of the game(s) and the players, it’ll Yuletide you over to the big day itself. Which, coincidentally, is when the NBA hopes to get back up and running.

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