24th: Christmas Eve of Destruction
A Vancouver TheatreSports League production. At the New Revue Stage on Friday, November 23. Continues until December 29
Let's just get this out of the way, since it comes up in almost every review of a Vancouver Theatre-Sports production: you don't need to be familiar with the original content to enjoy the show. I know this perhaps as well as anyone does, since I never seem to be a fan of whatever it is they're parodying. Such is the case with 24th: Christmas Eve of Destruction, which mixes the tense drama of the TV show 24 with the silliness of Santa. And I've got to say, this may very well be my favourite show yet.
Then again, the night I attended featured an exceptionally strong cast. (The roster of performers rotates throughout the week. See www.vtsl.com/ to find out who's playing on a given night.) Which leads to another improv-review staple: a reminder that the art form is almost review-proof. On any given night, it could be brilliant or blah, depending on the choices the actors make, the suggestions they receive, and the talent and experience of the improvisers.
To start with, you simply can't go wrong with Randy Schooley in any role. Just having him on-stage automatically raises the funny-meter reading. As the lead character, Jack Frost, who's out to save Christmas from a trio of hapless terrorists, he's a perfect action hero with his deadpan delivery. When a birthday reveller in the audience threatened to ruin the fun for everyone, Schooley, who gives the impression he doesn't suffer fools gladly, let the heckler have it: "If you want a birthday party, get some friends. Does somebody want to take him outside and kick him in the Christmas balls?"
And there wasn't a single weak link in the rest of the cast: Brian Anderson as Santa; Michael Teigen, Pearce Visser, and Michael Robinson as the terrorists; Graeme Duffy as the head elf; and–a real bright spot–Marjorie Malpass as the frequently kidnapped Kim Frost.
Beyond the actors, the set design is fantastic and the story is inherently funny. Evildoers trying to mess with Christmas? It doesn't get any better than that. With a digital clock running down for the duration of the show, there was even some real drama. Employing an old improv game in which one actor is taken out of the room, then returns to attempt to guess three words the audience has supplied in his or her absence, the show ends with Jack Frost frantically trying to come up with the password to stop the catapult from launching the magnets to expand the Bermuda Triangle. (You had to be there.) I honestly didn't think Schooley was going to make it, and I have no idea what would have happened if he hadn't, but he came up with candy cane with three seconds to spare.
VTSL has a winner on its hands with this production. Too bad Christmas comes but once a year.