Even in dire circumstances, there are often things one can do to improve one’s circumstances.
Like in the case of a train station manager who’s reminded every day that the town she loves is dwindling away as people hop aboard to take their leave, and very few make their arrival.
Still, sometimes all that’s needed to start changing that reality is a little hope, and that can start with some tinsel and a few decorations.
That’s the message from the ECHO Players’ winter holiday production, the Christmas Express.
The show opened Dec. 14 and performances continue on various dates until Dec. 31, the play is the story of the town of Holly — which is well past its golden age — and seen from the perspective of the local train station on Dec. 23 and a handful of its few remaining citizens.
Train station manager Hilda, played by Helen-Margaret Randall, is the most pessimistic of these citizens, full of cynicism, sass and quick-witted comebacks for her zany assistant, Satch, played by Len Mustard.
It is mysterious newcomer Leo, played by Jay Silverberg, who’s job it is to re-invigorate the citizens of Holly (especially Hilda) and give them the inspiration and drive to try and breath life back into their town. And it all starts by bringing some Christmas cheer.
The NEWS attended the production’s dress rehearsal on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and witnessed an at-times rousing, energetic and smart performance from the cast. The show was, however, speckled with issues, including some faltering or completely missed lines, and a disappearing prop.
What was encouraging, however, was the way the cast (several of whom are fairly new to the stage) reacted to these mistakes — with mirth and the drive to keep going, giving the audience the excuse to chuckle along to the performance (even the director burst out laughing at one point), and giving the actors the opportunity to pull off other parts of the play with emotion, professionalism and aplomb.
Jay Silverberg, who is making his debut on stage with this production, has the difficult job of playing a character that is magnanimous, but not pompous — wise, but not a know-it-all.
He does a good job of walking that line, and is perhaps at his best in that way during a scene where he’s helping a young couple to work through their spat.
With man and woman on each end of a train station bench, and Silverberg between them, Silverberg’s expression is of sincere concern and love for the people his character has just met.
The couple, Donna and Jerry, played by Katy Corfe and Trent Bjornsen, have good chemistry, rattling off accusations and rebukes like two people who know just what buttons to push.
Randall and Mustard also make a good pair, trading barbs throughout much of the performance, though Satch’s dialogue tends toward the harebrained and absurd, while Hilda seems convinced his odd form of positivity is mostly to annoy her.
To one (of many) suggestions that they decorate the station, Hilda responds “I’ll deck your bough,” with pleasing severity.
A stand-out scene for Mustard and Jennifer L. Fleming who plays the town’s second-rate journalist, Penelope, is when they take up Donna and Jerry’s argument for them, seamlessly transitioning from finishing the young couple’s sentences to acting out what must be a very accurate approximation of what began their fight.
Ultimately, the performance, despite its problems, brought many laughs for the audience, showed both veteran and new performers in moments of brilliance, and showed how important it can be to participate in the fun and cheer of Christmastime.
Performances take place every Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until Dec. 30 at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday, Dec. 17 and Sunday, Dec. 31.
Tickets are $21 for adults, $18 for seniors 65 and older, $12 for students, $6 for children and $17 each for groups of 10 or more.
For more information or to buy tickets, call 250-752-3522, or go to www.echoplayers.ca/tickets.php.