Domino Theatre’s Yes Vigrinia, There is a Santa Claus asserts that we must all believe in something. The object of this belief, though, is really of little importance.

In his song “We All Try”, the brilliant songwriter Frank Ocean echoes the sentiment, “you must believe in something”, because it is this belief in something that drives our need to try. The same idea can be applied to the good, hard-working people of New York City, 1896 – the setting in which Domino Theatre’s Yes Vigrinia, There is a Santa Claus takes place. Written by Andrew J. Fendy and directed by Valerie Winslow, this play evokes a hopeful and uplifting mood for the audience and an accurate depiction of what the late 1800s might look like.

(Matt Salton and Grant Bucker as Frank Church and Ed Mitchell)

Getting into the holiday spirit, Domino Theatre has recently started dedicating a slot of its programming to holiday centric content, right around the time when Kingston experiences its first snowfall of the year. Last year, the company produced The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. This year, the (true!) holiday story centres around two unrelated individuals: Frank Church (Matt Salton) and Virginia O’Hanlon (Maddie Kerr). Frank is an editorial author at The Sun, whose wife and child recently passed away. Virginia is an 8-year-old child to an Irish Catholic family that cannot afford to buy her new shoes, for which she gets mocked by her friends. Worried that sometimes “God might have too much on his mind”, coupled with her emerging skepticism of believing in something that cannot be seen, Virginia decides to pen a question to The Sun: “…Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” What could be interpreted as divine intervention, Frank is given the opportunity to renew his belief in the wonders of life by sustaining Virginia’s. Cynics, though, would shrug that off as a coincidence.

Watching this play, the production design stayed true to the story’s time. The period costuming was well done, and the set was simple but effective. There are four locations onstage, each distinguishable by a colour palette and set pieces appropriate to each location. One location, the office of The Sun editor Ed Mitchell (Grant Buckler), was frequently occupied by Mr. Mitchell himself – so much so that it would have been less distracting to keep Buckler onstage in the dark than to have him keep exiting and entering the stage. Despite this direction, Buckler delivered an effective performance as the Narrator, who has so many interventions throughout the play that it was as if the playwright did not trust that his audiences would be able to follow the story without the explicit spoon-feeding of information.

(L-R: Rachel Hackett, Alexis Clayfield, Madeline Kerr, Katie Kerr and Claire Cooper.)

It is in this saturation of exposition within the script with which I take issue. Like Winlslow explains in her Director’s Note, indeed men and women (and especially women, as the play informs us) faced incredibly daunting hardships at the time. Yet, the overly expository playwriting, in both the narrations and scenes, makes these weighty and complex topics feel contrived and therefore trivial. This would not be a sizeable problem if it did not directly impede the actors’ ability to truthfully play their characters and react organically to the obstacles they face. Unfortunately, though, this was not the case.

The play does have a saving grace though – its ending. The story has a good ending, something that the director informs the audience of in her Director’s Note. She writes, “The spirit of Christmas then, as now, brought out generosity, gratefulness and faith in people”, and that is the kind of belief that is needed now. Regardless of things like religion or race, the play acknowledges and believes in the common peoplehood as one’s largest support system. Cynics would say that is false hope, but I believe it is comforting enough to offset the play’s insufficiencies.

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus plays at Domino Theatre at 52 Church St. until December 15. Get your tickets here.

– Ben Sterlin

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