buy nothing christmas '03
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Buy Nothing Christmas: The Musical

By Erin Morash

From Canadian Mennonite, Friday November 29, 2004

 


Janis Folkerts plays Chase, an anti-consumer activist, and Kim Brown plays her shopaholic mother, Abby, in the new musical A Christmas Karl.

Those who "buy nothing" for Christmas are often accused of being Scrooges and crushing other people's holiday fun. This month, I had the chance to see A Christmas Karl, an enjoyable and funny musical that put the "Scrooge" on the other foot. Giving, it turns out, has very little to do with stuff and more to do with time and care-not surprising, but surprisingly hard to do.

The script was written by Scott Douglas and the score is the work of his brother, Andrew. Aiden Enns, co-founder of the Buy Nothing Christmas project [ed. Aiden Enns is a member of Canadian Mennonite's board of directors], asked the brothers to "take a deadly serious message and package it with humour, romance, and music."

At a time of year when people are caught between the blizzard of messages about buying that perfect gift for everyone who is even remotely connected with your life and the guilt we feel for over-spending, over-eating and over-doing-just-about-everything, it's nice to have the chance to laugh about it for an evening.

Janis Folkerts plays Chase, a young activist who is frustrated by the fact that she can't even convince her own mother to kick the "shop 'til you drop" Christmas habit. While Janis protests against commercialism outside the local Ubermart, her mother, Abby (played by Kim Brown), is overwhelmed by trying to fill a Christmas list that would make Santa Claus envious.

Outside the Ubermart, Chase bumps into a homeless man, Karl (played by Aiden Enns). The day-to-day circumstances of Karl's life (Chase meets him while he is going through trashcans for food) put the shopping frenzy happening around them into perspective. Inspired by her conversation with Karl, who believes he is an angel messenger, Chase decides to deal with her mother's over-consumption using the time-honoured three ghosts of Christmas that first visited Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Chase drafts her reluctant boyfriend Simon (played by Brent Hirose) into helping her.

The humour and the music balance out the seriousness of the play's message; the cast was obviously having a lot of fun up there and the audience responded enthusiastically to it (there was a full house). Strangely, the funniest scenes seem to revolve around the character of Simon, Chase's Jewish boyfriend. He seems caught between Chase's uncomfortable activism and his own questions about consumerism. Of all the characters, he also seemed to be the one most concerned about what the outcome was for real people: for Chase and Karl, for people whose jobs depend on consumption, for the stressed-out Abby. I found that I resonated most with Simon's confusion over the weird mixed messages of faith and commercialism around the celebration of Christmas.

The musical was released well before Christmas in order to give people time to see it and then time to think and react. I think it succeeds at this.

A Christmas Karl: A tender tale of commercialism, compassion, and fruitcake has one date left to play: December 15 at Steinbach Regional Secondary School Theatre. Admission is free, which dovetails nicely with the musical's message, although they are accepting donations. All performances begin at 8:00 pm. More information is at www.buynothingchristmas.org. -Erin Morash

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