Scarborough Theatre Guild will lift our souls and hearts with 'The Christmas Spirit'

On Stage in December at Scarborough Village Theatre

Design courtesy of Darlene Thomas. Director: Kevin Shaver Producer: Darlene Thomas

Joe Szekeres

Christmas 2022 will look just a tad different this year at Scarborough Theatre Guild with its early gift.

And it’s not what you expect. And sometimes that can be one of the most memorable gifts to receive.

In its return to live theatre within the community, Scarborough Theatre Guild will present Frederick Stroppel’s ‘The Christmas Spirit’. It has been produced in other North American cities, but this upcoming production is the first in the Greater Toronto area.

The plot sounds interesting.

I held a recent conversation with the Producer and Director of the production, Darlene Thomas and Kevin Shaver. I’ve worked with Kevin before in two other productions. He was the director when I appeared in ’12 Angry Men’ at Ajax Community Theatre. I then directed Kevin in a production of ‘The Long Road’ at Durham Shoestring Performers. I got to know Darlene through speaking with her as producer of some fine productions including: ‘Doubt, A Parable’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (which won the Thea for Best Production).

All live theatres (and that includes the community/amateur/non-professional) must still contend with Covid’s embrace as the weather gets colder. Just recently, it will be strongly recommended masks are to be worn once again. I’ve attended several community and professional productions where very few of the audience were masked and yes, I still choose to wear one.

How are Kevin and Darlene feeling about this return with Covid still hovering?

Kevin feels everyone in community theatre is just anxious to return to attending and being part of shows. He’s seeing that, with some people, Covid has become a secondary or tertiary thought. Darlene stated a lot of people are ‘over it’. She agrees with Shaver we all need to get back to some sense of normalcy and whatever that can mean going forward.

As producer, Thomas does have some concern for audiences and especially for the cast if someone comes down with Covid during rehearsals and performances. She reassures the cast is taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone’s safety by wearing masks during rehearsals. As director, Shaver knows there is a myriad of other possible reasons a cast member may be absent which might not necessarily be due to Covid. He hopes for the best and prepares for the worst with any decisions to be made at the time.

‘The Christmas Spirit’ takes place from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day in the present day in the home of central character, Julia. Her house appears to be stuck in time in her frame of mind. Since the death of her husband, Julia has not changed the décor. Like every other family on the planet, the dynamics of her family come into play in this script. No family is perfect even during the holidays and Shaver is quick to point out that if you want to see a perfect family, watch ‘The Brady Bunch’.

Julia is visited on Christmas Eve by a character named Death who has come to take her soul. She bargains with Death to give her one extra day so she can be with her family to make amends. Julia knows the inevitable is going to happen, but she manages to bargain. Within this bargain, Julia invites Death to come to dinner with her family.

Although the play does have some serious undertones, Shaver says ‘The Christmas Spirit’ is a comedy as Death isn’t what the audience expects him to be. At least he hopes people will be able to laugh at the face of Death in the play.

He further adds:

“We all have our image of The Grim Reaper, the rude house guest who just shows up and does whatever he wants. In this play, Death is very charming and naïve in some ways because nobody invites Death over for coffee or dinner. Death is excited to be at dinner.”

We are then introduced to members of Julia’s family except for one daughter whom she can’t get a hold of as she refuses to speak to her. Julia manages to get her sister, brother-in-law, her son and his new girlfriend to come to dinner. Julia also invites Father John. Death also brings one of his clients with him to the table. Comedy ensues at this point with tension between some people who want to be at the dinner table and others who do not want to be there as we learn in the unfolding of the story.

Shaver is also quick to point out the important theme of ‘The Christmas Spirit’. It is a story of family and reconciliation so that Julia can pass on knowing she has tried to bring her family together one last time.

With the Christmas season approaching, why does Kevin believe ‘The Christmas Spirit’ is something audiences will want to see instead of traditional stories such as ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’?

He is quick to point out he has had that conversation many times with others. He concedes it might be easier to produce a story with which everyone is familiar and would like to see. Kevin adds something that perhaps may have been influenced by an absence of being together in community for the storytelling of a play:

“There’s nothing wrong with doing something new and something fresh. This gives an audience something different – why keep reinventing the wheel?”

Darlene added that she likes the fact Scarborough Theatre Guild steps out of the tried-and-true mould. Instead, the Guild selects plays that are different or may not have been performed before. When Shaver presented Thomas with the script to read before she agreed to produce it, she said she couldn’t put it down.

Darlene also added she likes the artistic design for the show. It’s a Christmas ornament with the figure of Death inside. You can see the design at the top of the page next to her and Kevin’s photo.

Those who have met Kevin know he is an avid ‘Die Hard’ film fan. Every Christmas, he makes a point of sitting down to watch the film. With a joking tease, I asked him if he might somehow make a reference to his avid interest in the film. Shaver was a tad coy but acknowledged that those who are friends of his or in the know will laugh when they see where the film reference will appear.

The ‘Christmas Spirit’ cast includes Susan Sanders, Scott Simpson, Julie Jarrett, Karen Koenig, Drew Smylie, Mike Doucette, Mallory Holmes, Alan Maynes and Brad Finch.

Performances of ‘The Christmas Spirit’ run December 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15 and 16 at 8 pm. December 4, 11 and 17 at 2 pm. All performances take place at the Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough. To purchase tickets and for other information, visit theatrescarborough.com.

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