I know what you’re thinking: “Oh boy, not Christmas again – I just got jingle bells out of my head and the forecast finally doesn’t show any snow.” According to Garett Spelliscy, director of Murderers Confess at Christmastime, you’re going to want to make an exception to your “no thoughts of the holidays before October” policy.
Garett says Murderers Confess at Christmastime shows us “…three stories about people under pressure over the holiday season. There is the story of a mayor’s wife (a political spouse who cracks under pressure), there is a story about a cross-dressing kidnapper who falls in love with his latest victim, and there is the story of an office worker who is spurned by the object of his affection… Christmas is a really difficult time to be lonely – that’s the serious part of this play. We’re seeing really lonely people under a lot of pressure and trying to make their dreams come true.” The show, developed in Edmonton by playwright Jason Chinn, premiered last August at the Toronto SummerWorks Festival to rave reviews. From May 8 – 18, it will be making its hometown debut at the Roxy Theatre.
While at first you might think the show will be lighthearted and fun, don’t be fooled. Murderers Confess at Christmastime is likely best categorized as a black comedy, and that the inherent duality of humourous and serious themes is one of the reasons Garett says audiences find the show engaging. “We want to give people something that’s unexpected, that you don’t see coming. With a lot of things, you can guess what you’re actually in for as an audience member. But, [with this play] you’re probably wrong, no matter what… You’re constantly having your expectations turned over, even within the little scenes. You think, ‘Okay, I think this is going to go this way.’ and then we flip that on its head. I think that’s exciting to people and you become engaged.”
While other directors might focus on the humour in the play, Garett says for him the focus is on showing the truth in the characters onstage. “My pet peeve when I watch other people work on Jason’s writing is they send it up. They see the comedy in it and they play up how wacky it is. They think ‘Oh, I see a wacky character in this, the rhythm is different than other stuff that I read, so this must be about big characters.’ And while I would say, ‘Okay, you’re seeing that these people are characters, they certainly react in their own particular way, they’re very unique people.’ What I’ve stressed in this process is the authenticity of everything and how real these people are. So, we built that – the actors have gotten the drama and the tension and the relationships that are everything to these people and, a couple days ago in rehearsal, we were like ‘Okay, now we can let it rip. This part, people will be laughing so we can play it up.’ We’ve built that foundation of the authentic relationships, and now we can have fun. That’s the way I approach [Jason’s work]. That way you get both – there are extremely serious moments in the show, we’re not making fun of them. You will be able to see both sides – you’ll see the truth in it, and you’ll see why it’s absurd.”
Murderers Confess at Christmastime plays at the Roxy Theatre May 8 -18 (previews May 6 & 7). Tickets are $20 per person and can be bought from Theatre Network. Tuesday is 2 for 1 night.