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CAT keeps My Three Angels timeless

Christmas Eve is celebrated at a sweltering 105 F in Central Alberta Theatre’s engaging presentation of My Three Angels.

And that’s the first clue this isn’t your typical Christmas story.

Not only do the holidays arrive during a tropical heat wave in this play set in French Guiana, but relatives turn out to be grasping villains while three Devil’s Island criminals are revealed as noble idealists.

Nothing unfolds as expected in the witty comedy by Samuel and Bella Spewack — including the script itself.

One might think that a 60-year-old Broadway hit that was turned into the 1955 Humphrey Bogart movie We’re No Angels wouldn’t be terribly relevant in these cynical times.

It’s a pleasant discovery that My Three Angels — which is running at the Memorial Centre — is not only timeless and engrossing, but uses subversive, dark humour to spread some good old-fashioned Christmas cheer.

How 2012 of a three-act play from 1953 that’s actually set in 1910!

The action begins with colonial shop manager Felix Ducotel confessing his woes to his anxious wife, Emilie (Nicole Orr). Unbeknownst to the couple, they are overheard by a trio of convicts who are fixing a hole in their roof on a work-release program.

It turns out that Felix (empathetically played by Ron Vocke) is a terrible businessman. He won’t ask poor customers to settle their bills and doesn’t have a handle on merchandise that’s disappearing from the shop.

At this worst possible moment, the shop’s owner, Felix’s uncle Henri Trochard, has decided to visit from France to check up on business. And a stressed Felix fears it’s only a matter of time before Henri (Jeff Challoner) fires him and he, Emilie and their daughter, Marie Louise, are thrown into the street.

Meanwhile, Marie Louise (portrayed as an innocent by Tori Darr) is distraught to discover that her beloved, Paul, (Quentin Coish) has become engaged to a rich girl. She’s about to throw herself into the river, but the convicts save her life.

To show her appreciation, Emilie invites the three jailbirds to stay for Christmas Eve dinner, and the prisoners find themselves playing good elves to the family over the holidays.

As might be expected, the philosophical convicts, Joseph, Jules and Alfred (respectively Martin Kvapil, Michael Sutherland and Konstantin Vorosmarty) play by looser rules than most. But audience members will find themselves rooting for the bad guys all the same.

This well-paced production, evenly directed by Heather Shatford, actually leaves audiences with a lot to cheer about, including a smart, humourous script, a great bamboo-trimmed tropical set by Stuart Reid, and terrific performances from the cast of 10 community actors.

Vocke, Kvapil and Sutherland, in particular, have a naturalistic style of conversing around a supper table that completely hooks you and draws you in.

Can prisoners with life sentences still find hope? Is there justice? Is virtue its own reward, or does the end justify the means?

These and other questions are posed and discussed in the play. I encourage you to see it and come up with your own answers.

Despite some darkish plot turns, you just might leave humming Christmas carols.

The comedy runs to Dec. 7.



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