by Josh MacDonald
Pacific Theatre, 1420 W. 12th
December 3 - January 2

An ideal holiday show for liberal-Christian Pacific Theatre, Halo is a play about faith and fakery, miracles and media. Maritime playwright Josh MacDonald asks some timely questions about what happens in the small town of Nately, Nova Scotia when an image of Jesus appears on a wall of Tim Horton's a week before Christmas. In this era when nothing "faith-based" can be too idiotic or grotesque, when "miraculous" grilled cheese sandwiches sell for thousands of dollars on eBay, can real miracles be saved from the taint of commodification? Could we even recognize one if it stared us in the face?

The play tells two parallel stories which overlap in a very affecting conclusion. One is about cynical young Casey who works at Tim's, her jock boyfriend Jansen, her boss Bob, and Father JJ, the local priest. Casey is bitter about her parents' breakup and her move back to this pisshole, nowhere town. As the Jesus becomes a local phenomenon, attracting the attention of a cynical TV reporter and the commercial exploitation of Bob and others, Casey's darkest assumptions about the town--about everything-- seem confirmed. This despite Jansen's sincere faith that it must mean something, and the priest's insistence that it doesn't but still needs to be addressed somehow. Meanwhile, in a hospital across town a farmer named Donald maintains a vigil over his daughter, brain-dead for two years after an accident. His other daughter, Lizzie, home for the holidays, urges him to pull the plug. But he insists on waiting for a miracle to restore her to life.

Both storylines are strong. The hospital plot just manages to resist becoming maudlin, mainly by virtue of honest performances from James Wilson as Donald and especially Karen Rae as Lizzie. The more interesting main plot has deeper problems. MacDonald has written secondary characters, including the CBC reporter and the many pilgrims who come to the instant shrine, in very broad satirical strokes that threaten to tip a serio-comic play over into cartoon territory. Director Morris Ertman seems to have told the two young actors who play all those characters, Evangela Dueck and Don Amos, to exaggerate them even more. Dueck's reporter is so over the top that the satirical point gets lost. Similarly, Casey as written is already so cynical that Rebecca DeBoer should have been directed to avoid dripping sarcasm and reinforcing every line with dismissive body language. After the plot shift near the end, when Casey is able to relax, DeBoer shows a lot more of the dimensions that we only get to glimpse earlier.

Anthony Ingram does a nice job as Father JJ, Casey's confidant, whose long hair and sermons comparing the raising of Lazarus to the need for recycling have made him another outsider in the town. But Kyle Rideout steals the show. As Jansen, the slacker puckhead, Rideout avoids all the clichés of small-town jock. His good-natured goofiness is hilarious, and his ingenuous faith seems the most genuine thing in the play until the moving final scene where Casey and Donald quietly, eloquently find redemption.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 5:40 PM
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