Hiro Kanagawa makes a startling confession for a playwright of a holiday-themed play, The Patron Saint of Stanley Park (at the Arts Club Theatre Company’s Revue Stage until December 26). While chatting by phone with the Straight from his Vancouver home, he suddenly blurts out: “I never gave a rat’s ass about Christmas.”
Kanagawa, an actor as well as a playwright, and a familiar face to fans of the X-Files and Da Vinci’s Inquest, readily admits that he and his wife, actor Tasha Faye Evans, used to regularly escape the Yuletide cheer with trips to Mexico and Cuba. But that all changed four years ago with the birth of their son, Niko, who was joined two years later by a sister, Maia. “It [Christmas] is all about the kids now,” he says happily, as the sound of squabbling youngsters echoes down the line. “It’s much more important to spend time with family and be with the grandparents.”
It was the arrival of his children that prompted Kanagawa to transform what was initially meant as a science-fiction theatre piece into a fantastical Christmas tale. Invited in 2006 by the Arts Club to create a new work through its Silver Commissions Project, Kanagawa toyed with the idea of placing Bigfoot in Stanley Park. “I actually turned in a first draft of that, and [Arts Club artistic director] Bill Millerd and [Arts Club dramaturge] Rachel [Ditor] were like, ”˜Okay this looks promising, keep going.’ But after that, it just didn’t happen on my end. It just wasn’t writing itself.”
Instead, Kanagawa found himself contemplating his mortality, and the security of his children. “I had a young son, and my wife and I were talking about having another baby, and I was pretty immersed in the whole new-father thing,” he recalls. “We had these discussions about how we should get a will and what would happen to them if we should pass away. I kind of morbidly started to dwell on, ”˜Well, what would they know of me? What would they remember of me?’ It occurred to me it would be a long time before they would be able to read anything I had written or understand any of the film work I had done. So I thought, ”˜Well, gee, I want to leave them something that they could access, maybe, at a younger age.’”
The resulting work is a modern-day fable that, like many of the great Christmas classics, has a touch of darkness about it. It tells of two siblings, Josh and Jennifer, struggling to come to turns with the recent loss of their father in a floatplane accident. After their mother insists on spending Christmas with relatives, the children run off to Stanley Park, wanting to honour their father’s memory, and get caught in a terrible wind storm. There, they are rescued by a mysterious vagabond, Skookum Pete, who shelters them in a magical bunker beneath Prospect Point where they experience fantastical visions.
“I hope families will really connect within and find self-recognition—that they’ll recognize the kind of trials and tribulations of Christmastime,” says Kanagawa. “It’s not always a happy time for people,” he adds. “The family in this play, they have their struggles, but in the end there is this notion of community and of Christmas spirit that unites everyone.”
Demonstrating his newfound appreciation of the season, he remarks: “It’s a Christmas play, so it has a happy ending. You can’t leave people full of grief and angst at the end of a Christmas play.”