Vancouver TheatreSports League’s Holiday Rumble will put you in the Christmas spirit

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A Vancouver TheatreSports League production. At the Improv Centre on Thursday, November 29. Continues until December 22

It’s officially Christmas season. I’m always late to the party. I can be blissfully removed from it even while decorated houses and trees pop up all around me and carols start blasting from every speaker.

But I’m in the mood now, thanks to Holiday Rumble, Vancouver TheatreSports League’s seasonal offering. Because, really, what says Christmas more than an improvised comedy grudge match?

It’s a wonderfully silly concept: five holiday icons battle it out to see who will represent the spirit of the holidays. The five fully costumed characters on opening night were George Bailey (Nathan Clark doing a passable Jimmy Stewart), a very pregnant Virgin Mary (Margret Nyfors), a lump of coal (Denise Jones), Frankincense (Michael Teigen dressed as Mary Shelley’s monster), and Tiny Tim (Graeme Duffy). But, according to the press material, on any given night of the run (every week from Thursday to Saturday, until December 22) there will be different actors playing different roles. You might see the Ghost of Bing Crosby, Santa Claus, Brenda the Atheist, Jack Frost, a street-smart rabbi, or some other offbeat representation.

Adding to the ambience is the bedecked Granville Island Stage and jolly music introducing each scene. Beyond that, the scenes themselves weren’t on theme. And that was fine. The costumes, decorations, and music made up for it. The host, a microphoned Pearce Visser, put out the challenge, as per standard TheatreSports fare, and the participants went at it.

While each had a well-defined voice for their character, they dropped it—and the character—when it came time to act. So the grunting Frankincense, for example, could be a gregarious 350-pound house guest or Tiny Tim could play a French father, only reverting to the fictional alter-egos between rounds. I would love to have seen the monosyllabic monster or youthful Cratchit trying to act as different characters throughout.

Improv is a team game. As any sports fan knows, success depends on how well the unit gels. And the squad is only as good as its weakest player. On this night, there were no weak links and everyone worked together as one, including sound improviser Laura Skelton up in the booth in one memorable scene where each actor was given a personal sound effect that would cue them to enter or leave the stage at her whim.

As in any sporting event, a winner must emerge, no matter how equal the competitors are. That’s a difficult task in a subjective art form, not that it ultimately matters here. It’s all for fun. But part of the fun for the audience is cheering the loudest for their favourite performer. In my scorebook, Jones edged out the field for consistently providing great laughs and moving every scene somewhere interesting and funny. The crowd, though, went with Duffy, who was also a great choice, as any of them would have been. It’s probably just as well a lump of coal wasn’t chosen to represent the spirit of the season.

Not now that I’ve finally gotten into the groove.

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