Merry Kiss-mas has the gift of laughs, but could use more seasonal spirit

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      A Vancouver TheatreSports production. At the Improv Centre on Granville Island on Wednesday, December 5. Continues to December 24

      I miss the Christmas Queen. For four festive seasons, Vancouver TheatreSports brought us the dastardly Grinch-like monarch in a fast-paced panto that featured a who’s who of Christmas characters. But in improv comedy, to hell with traditions; all things must change.

      And so the offering this December is Merry Kiss-mas, a sendup of those dreadful Hallmark holiday movies nobody watches or cares about. Or do they? On paper it’s an okay idea, but on the night I went, there was little to no connective tissue to the theme.

      The first half was a series of short improv games, each one inspired—or so they said—by cinematographic gems such as Christmas in Homestead, A Christmas Melody, The Princess Switch, Christmas Incorporated, and the classic A Shoe Addict’s Christmas, but once the action started, as funny as it was, any link was tenuous at best, whether to the actual film or to the holiday season itself.

      This is what makes reviewing improv comedy so difficult. The show hangs on the abilities of the performers, and VTSL always has fantastic improvisers, as they did on this night, with host Margret Nyfors and players Michael Teigen, Lauren McGibbon (whose sign-language interpretations stole the show), Ken Lawson, Denise Jones, and Jamie Chrest. So the laughs were there. And isn’t that the most important thing? It’s just that the overall structure was not one to infuse the joy of the season to the audience—at least not to this Christmas shopper.

      The second half was a long-form “movie” starring an audience member, on this night called Garrett’s Retirement Christmas, based on a brief interview with the game civilian. It’s tricky using lay people for fear they’ll either clam up entirely or try to do too much, but Garrett was perfect. There were some inspired suggestions from the crowd. Garrett’s real-life Tinder date wanted Teigen to play the love interest, which gave the show the panto feel that had been missing (although host Nyfors looked at the three other female cast members and remarked that “they’re still stealing our jobs”).

      The set was beautifully constructed, showing a village featuring a wintry Molly’s General Store and a town hall, but it wasn’t utilized in either half of the program. It felt like this show could run at any time of the year. Hallmark movies aren’t just seasonal, after all. So bring this back in the summer and let’s get The Return of the Christmas Queen here next year.