Christmas Queen 4: Secret Santa's inspired cast of improvisers keep a warped holiday tradition going strong

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      A Vancouver TheatreSports League presentation. At the Improv Centre on Saturday, December 2. Continues until December 23

      I’m beginning to wonder about the Christmas Queen. Every year (for the past four seasons, at least), she starts out trying her damnedest to ruin the holiday for one and all and then ends up embracing it. Her inability to remember from one December to the next is alarming. Maybe dementia is creeping in.

      She’s up to her old tricks again this year. Christmas Queen 4: Secret Santa has the old battle-axe seeking out via Craigslist a way to switch bodies with Mr. Claus. She stumbles across a flatulence-induced body exchanger that could spell doom for boys and girls the world over. Only guess what? She comes to appreciate all that Christmas stands for. But I mean, it makes sense, considering her name and all.

      The plot line is secondary, though, to the general fun and frivolity this show always brings. It’s become a family tradition, at least in my household, signalling the start of the holiday season. As with any VTSL production, the cast is different each performance. Because Pearce Visser has been the Christmas Queen in each of the three previous incarnations I’ve seen, those two are inseparable in my mind. So when Dan Dumsha emerged in the blue wig and big boobs, I was skeptical. Silly me. VTSL has such a deep stable of improvisers, they can all step into the limelight and deliver. Dumsha’s Queen was as caustically hilarious as Visser’s, spewing barbs to fellow actors and audience members alike—even one in a wheelchair—but all aboveboard.

      The cast on Saturday was full of fresh new faces (to me, anyway). I had seen Devin Mackenzie the most over the years and his self-assured dry delivery is always a treat. His comedy partner in Hip.Bang!, Tom Hill, was great as a kind but on-task Santa. Jamie Chrest kept the show moving as Buttons, the narrator, and got in some good lines along the way. Brad Duffy, a rookie player, was a sympathetic Marty, head elf, while Brian Cook and another rookie, Andrew Job, rounded out the strong troupe as elves, swimming instructors, and wildlife.

      Chances are, you won’t see this exact ensemble if you go, but the improv elements and beats will be the same. On Saturday, we saw CQ working as a lifeguard, we got to know some of her back story while visiting her $3,000-per-month West End apartment, and the elves in the North Pole were busy making gingerbread men, fixing broken angels, and putting eggplants in stockings. The brief choreographed dance number was pointless but goofy enough to be endearing. And Mackenzie’s Roxanne moment, when he was forced by Buttons to make up three jokes in a row about oranges, seemed suspiciously like a forced suggestion. What else would be found in the bottom of a stocking but an orange? But there is such a thing as free will, and maybe another audience would come up with a more creative find. No matter. It was still funny.

      Above all that, the show is surprisingly heartwarming. It should be no surprise though: I feel this way each time I see the latest iteration of The Christmas Queen. Now, if she can only remember to hold on to this warm and fuzzy feeling next year.

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