Holy Mo! A Christmas Show
by Keri Vermeulen
What if you and two friends were assigned with the task of telling the first Christmas story – the Nativity, as your trio travelled around, through time and place to different audiences? What would you tell with glee? What would you avoid talking about? What would you even remember? And, what props would you use to bring the story, and your own heart, to life?
Perhaps there are no three characters today more delightfully ill-equipped, but completely well-suited to tell the Nativity story than three travelling performers, the clowns Folly, Buffoona and Guff. These are the female fools tasked with telling us the Nativity story in their own way – at once childlike, foolish and deeply wise – in the brand new holiday offering from Pacific Theatre, Holy Mo! A Christmas Show!, running Dec. 2 – 31. The show, commissioned by PT, is the literary work of acclaimed Vancouver playwright and actor, Lucia Frangione, who also appears onstage as Folly.
In the tradition of Shakespeare’s fools, or the clowns of Commedia dell’arte, Frangione delivers this ragtag trio in a way that is both innocent and childlike, all the while revealing sharp truth about our own hearts and our approach to Christmas. Audiences will see a bit of themselves in one or more of the three clowns.
“I play the ringleader, Folly, and she knows the biblical story and she remembers some of the details, but other things she has forgotten or got mixed up,” shares Frangione from an upstairs room at Pacific Theatre, taking a break from costume fitting. “Buffoona loves Santa and presents and is excited about the fa la la la la end of Christmas, while Folly is all about the Nativity and the solemn beauty of the story of Emmanuel. Then there’s Guff who doesn’t talk very much. She hates Christmas and we discover why. She had a terrible thing happen to her at Christmas, so she drinks a bit too much eggnog.”
It’s under the remarkably skilled word smithing of Frangione that these clowns tell us the story of the Nativity in a way that is jumbled up and yet precise, joyful and sorrowful, funny and solemn. This style is particularly conducive to Frangione’s approach as a writer who has a deep appreciation of words and literature, and a love of rhythm and metaphor. She comes by it honestly. “It’s a combination of my mother, who would always be pulling down the dictionary from the cupboard to look up new words. She was English and she loved language and literature,” Frangione recalls. “The other side of my family is Italian, and that’s were the rhythm comes from and the crazy one-liners. My Italian side loves metaphors. So I grew up in this house where crazy, fantastic metaphors were happening along with lovely, big words.”
As we travel with Folly, Buffoona and Guff, and their little circus wagon full of crazy props, the story of Emmanuel, God with us, shows up in a very historic way. Together, these fools look at all aspects of the story, including the genocide, racism, narcissism and murder of the innocent babes that surround the Nativity story. This is contrasted with a sense of silliness, and childlike wonder, as the clowns jump from Ancient Rome to Modern Day in their truth journey, which comes out in a beautiful juxtaposition of words.
“The clowns themselves speak in iambic pentameter,” Frangione says. “So there’s a lot of rhythmic, poetic language and then suddenly it will break into something very silly. I think the roller coaster of the beautiful and the crass, the dangerous and ridiculous happens in life all the time…As my Dad always said, ‘we laugh at funerals and we cry at weddings.’ Within the Christmas story there is great joy and great sorrow.”
And a little bit of that contrast shows up in this conversation with Frangione, who in one moment laughs joyfully at the antics of Folly, Buffoona and Guff – and in the next, weeps shyly at the power and beauty of a simple holy moment.
“My job as a writer is to be really honest about the questions I ask, and vulnerable, and trust that the truth will speak to the audience individually. For me that is the Holy Spirit,” she says through tears. “In this sort of play, I am overtly Christian and I’m very much celebrating the arrival of Emmanuel in our lives.”
Holy Mo! A Christmas Show! plays Dec 2 – 31, 8 pm Wednesdays – Saturdays with 2pm matinees all Saturdays and Sunday, Dec 4 at Pacific Theatre, 1440 W 12th For tickets call 604.731.5518 or visit pacifictheatre.org.