Don’t bother dusting off your collection of Christmas movies this year. Instead, head on down to the Village Theatre and see ECHO Player’s seasonal production Ethan Claymore for your yearly dose of heart-warming holiday spirit.
Directed by Wendy Punter, the play tells the story of a Canadian egg farmer named Ethan Claymore, who has buried himself in work and debt since the death of his wife for five years. However, his meddling neighbour Doug McLaren arrives at the house on Dec. 21 and demands the younger man get out of his funk to celebrate Christmas. To help, Doug presents Ethan with a list that includes getting a Christmas tree and meeting the new school teacher Teresa Pike.
However, the ghost of Ethan’s estranged and recently deceased brother Martin arrives shortly thereafter on a mission for redemption. The brothers also have to resolve some deep-seated resentment, which is revealed through a series of flashbacks to their youth.
There were solid performances by everyone in the cast and all of the actors were particularly well suited to their roles. Douglas Aalseth, a relative newcomer to ECHO Players, believably navigated his role as the shy, naive and artistically inclined egg farmer Ethan and Mike Andrews couldn’t be more loveable as the bumbling, but well-meaning neighbour Doug. The banter between them was tightly delivered and never felt forced. It prompted a lot of laughter from the audience. There were a few points, however, when the dialogue felt a little shaky. Still, the performers did a great job of keeping in character, smoothing out the moment and continuing strongly. Veteran ECHO Players actor Scott Murray took the role as Martin, and his experience particularly shone through in his polished performance.
There were also a few newcomers on the Village Theatre stage. KSS Grade 9 drama students Alex Hunter and Jeremy Fensome were well chosen for their respective roles as Young Ethan and Young Martin, and Heather Haseltine animatedly portrayed Teresa Pike in her theatrical debut. All three looked comfortable on stage and there was no point where it was glaringly obvious these actors had less experience.
Speaking of stage, the set design itself was effective. In particular, the little details — like a light in the fireplace, a winter scene painted behind the window and a ghostly self-opening door — gave the play a fuller feeling. A couple of the set changes dragged on, breaking the mood, but things smoothed out by the second half. Of particular note was the lighting designed by Ken McCready. The use of blue light during flashbacks really helped differentiate the jumps in time, which could have been especially difficult to follow since Aalseth portrayed Ethan Claymore’s father during those scenes with no bigger costume change than wearing a pair of glasses.
In fact, no part of the play was difficult to follow. Slightly reminiscent of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life with it’s inclusion of spirits and classic themes of holiday redemption and the power of family and friends, the play felt sweet and pleasantly predictable. The pieces fell where they were supposed to fall and all felt right in the world. It’s exactly what I needed to get me into the mood for the holiday season.