Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

The Christmas Tree At The Foster Festival

At barely 45 minutes, Norm Foster’s The Christmas Tree is something of a theatrical amuse-bouche. You know, those minuscule bits of deliciousness served by fancy restaurants before the meal proper gets under way? But rather than coming at the beginning of anything, The Christmas Tree marks the end of the Foster Festival’s 2023 season. So much for similes.

The Christmas Tree takes place on Christmas Eve as two good looking thirty-somethings, a man and woman, square off to determine who will go off with the last tree on the lot. The last remaining Christmas tree in the whole town it seems.

(Back where I come from the last specimens left on the local Christmas tree lots are pitiful, scraggly affairs. This tree looks quite spiffy. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing but, hey, we’re in Fosterland and this kind of niggling verisimilitude is out of place.)

Both are quite intent on snagging the tree and, after realizing that flipping a coin is too trivial a decision-making method, they decide to plead their case as to why they deserve the tree. The one with the most compelling story wins the tree.

Thus begins the kind of witty back and forth that is Norm Foster’s comedic stock in trade. As it turns out, neither is above lying through their teeth to make their story truly pitiable. It also turns out that each is quite good at spotting the telling detail that unmasks the other as a liar. And so one tall tale succeeds another much to our delight.

The Christmas Tree is filled with the kind of barbed, battle-of-the-sexes repartee that make the best sitcoms so successful. There are equal opportunity insults (or are they perceptive observations?) aimed at both genders and each combatant gives as good as he or she gets.

So who gets the Christmas tree? It would not be in the Christmas spirit to reveal that detail, but since this is a Christmas story I don’t think it requires any glaring spoiler alert to say that it ends on an upbeat note.

Material likes this requires a light and expert touch. Without top-notch performers the piece could be deadly. Fortunately, this Christmas tree is decorated with two stars who clearly have mastered the art of making Foster’s material sparkle.

Emily Oriold, the co-founder and artistic director of the Foster Festival, is delightful as the kind of strong-willed woman who has learned to navigate the choppy seas of the dating world and keep a steady hand on the tiller.

Jamie Williams, who was so impressive as the son in The Writer, a far more serious Foster play presented by the Festival in 2019, shows his range as Oriold’s sparring partner. His character keeps mooting the possibility that the two of them might “hook up” or, indeed that they are in fact in the process of “hooking up” – in other words he’s a bit of a jerk. And yet Williams makes him thoroughly likable, the key to making the whole set up work.

There was no programme that I saw and hence no mention of a director. My guess is that these two consummate pros hashed it out together over a handful of rehearsals and a few beers. They certainly seem to hit all the right notes.

The play is mounted in the spartan confines of the Old Pelham Town Hall in the tiny hamlet of Fonthill well south of the QEW and St. Catherines. The Foster Festival is something of a moveable feast. Offhand, I think this is the fourth venue in which I’ve seen them perform.

Fortunately, this modest setting is perfect for The Christmas Tree. A raised platform, a bale of hay, and a tree are all Oriold and Williams need to create a little bit of Christmas magic.

The Christmas Tree is as light (and brief) as a snow flurry and a terrific alternative to the often ponderous productions of Dickens’ Christmas Carol that some theatre organizations believe the season demands.

The Christmas Tree, presented by the Foster Festival at the Old Pelham Town Hall, continues through December 7, 2023. For more information or to purchase tickets visit the Foster Festival website.

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