‘The Regifters’ pairs laughs with heart

The play follows the stories of three dysfunctional couples and a curious gift that ends up passed from one to the other.

Everyone is guilty of it at some point.

Holiday gift-giving to someone you don’t really know all that well or care all that much about. Maybe it’s a distant uncle or a coworker whose name you drew in the office secret Santa pool. And maybe you have an ugly piece of art or an unpleasant scented candle or the world’s dullest coffee table book — something given to you last Christmas and stuffed into the closet, out of sight and mind for the whole year. What’s the harm in wrapping that up and saving yourself the time (and expense) of a trip to the mall?

Now, what if you’d sent off your repackaged present only to then learn that it was worth millions?

This is the situation in which the characters find themselves in the Kaatza Lakeside Players production of The Regifters, which opened last week in Lake Cowichan. Well, sort of.

The play, by Robert Lynn, follows the stories of three dysfunctional couples on Christmas Eve and a curious gift that ends up passed from one to the other.

Lori and Bridget Henshaw (Sally Miles and Eva Fearon) first receive the puzzling present — it looks almost like a trophy of sorts, with shiny prongs arching out of a wood and metal base — that has no discernible function. It’s sent to them by mail from distant acquaintances in Germany, and although the Henshaws decide the thing is utterly useless, they do know what to do with it.

“Let’s give it to the Mulligans!” says Lori. “They’ll absolutely hate it!”

And so the gift is passed off onto their neighbours, Tom and Mary Mulligan (Andy Rowe and Johanna McColgan), who wind up doing the same, re-gifting it to Lauren and Jeff Cunningham (Helen Spry and Graham Fielding) who live with Jeff’s persnickety mother (Rose Bunting).

However, when the Henshaws find out from their German contacts the gift is “priceless,” dollar signs light up in their eyes and so begins a similar chain of events in which they, the Mulligans and the Cunninghams all set about trying to reclaim it for themselves.

The Regifters script originally called for three male-female couples at the heart of the show, however, when director Erin Butler was unable to find a suitable actor to cast as Loras Henshaw, he simply changed the character’s name to Lori and made them a lesbian couple instead.

This turned out to be a stroke of genius because it allowed him to pair Miles and Fearon, whose onstage dynamic had the audience laughing at every turn. Miles’ petulant and spoiled Lori (whose extensive collection of Frabergé eggs is on full display) and Fearon’s prickly, domineering Bridget are — at least in a comedic sense — perfect for each other.

McColgan’s portrayal of Mary Mulligan was also perfect. Her talent for facial expressions is undeniable, and some of her background acting is so entertaining it rivals her front-and-centre scenes.

And the Cunningham household is a whirlwind of humorous dialogue and activity, with Spry and Fielding giving charming performances as the young married couple and Bunting outdoing herself as the most delightfully hateable mother-in-law one could hope for in a holiday play like this. Audiences should hold onto their seats when Mrs. Cunningham starts making suggestions about what the unusual Christmas gift might be.

Movement from household to household is facilitated by the same rotating stage used for the springtime production of Annie, and to wonderful effect. Butler and his crew went to great lengths to ensure the set dressing for each home’s interior design adequately reflect the family therein; from the Henshaws’ glittering Fabergé eggs to the anti-Christmas Mulligans’ sparse decor to the Cunningham’s gaudy christmas tree and decorations.

Theatre-lovers in the Cowichan Valley have three more nights to see this show, which runs Nov. 24 to 26. Much like the present at the heart of its story — and there is heart, amidst all the characters’ self-motivation and seasonal cynicism — The Regifters is itself the gift that keeps on giving.

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