In the 1954 classic White Christmas, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye dress up as women to help the Haynes sisters out of a jam en route to a feel-good finish about the true meaning of the holiday. Fast forward six decades and there’s the decidedly much quirkier A Very Leila Christmas that has the same destination.
The creation of award-winning artist Izad Etemadi, Leila is a recent immigrant from Iran spending her first Christmas in Canada. Her immersion in the culture finds her swept away by the whole yuletide thing, to great hilarity in the Green Light Arts presentation now running at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener.
“We brought the show here last December, and it was a hit,” said Carin Loweriston, managing director of Green Light Arts, noting holiday shows do have a habit of becoming traditions.
“Leila has developed something of a cult following in K-W,” she added with a laugh.
Leila is the alter-ego of Etemadi, first introduced for an altogether different production some four years ago, Borderland, a solo show about the perils of being a gay man in Iran. A character in that show, Leila took on a life of her own. That’s to be expected – or maybe not – of a bearded, flamboyant Persian woman.
An unconventional character played in a bouffon style, Leila manages to capture the spirit of Christmas in her own way.
“She has a knack for bringing people together,” said Loweriston of the character and her comedic take on an issue increasingly relevant in a multicultural Canada.
Such issues are the bread and butter of Green Light Arts, a not-for-profit theatre company founded in 2014 by Lowerison and her partner Matt White.
A Very Leila Christmas definitely falls on the lighter side of the company’s productions. It’s spring show, for instance, will be Guarded Girls, which tackles the psychological destruction brought on by solitary confinement and looks to humanize women navigating both sides of Canada’s corrections system. The following month, in June, The Seat Next to the King takes on what it meant to be gay in turbulent 1960s.
“If you want the world to be a better place, you have to start somewhere – and we think live theatre is an excellent way to reach people,” said Loweriston.
While not all of Green Light’s shows are suitable for kids, A Very Leila Christmas and it’s occasionally salty language should be fine for older children.
“It’s definitely the lightest show of our season. A hundred-and-ten per cent of the time, people come and experience the show … find that they’re enamoured, that they’re swept up,” she laughed.
It’s not surprising that Leila, a newcomer to the country, should find all of the activities around Christmas – the commercialism, the merchandise and all the hype – to be somewhat confusing. It’s easy to get the wrong idea … and she does.
Taking part in her first job as a customer service rep. in a call centre during the holiday season, Leila is keep to learn about this “Christmas-thing Canadians seem to love so much.” To impress a co-worker she promises to throw the ultimate Christmas party, but things get out of hand and the laughs follow. There’s also dancing, singing, tree decorating and sugar cookies in which the audience is encouraged to partake.
Leila’s eagerness to join in leads to some “disastrous holiday planning,” that is a recipe for laughs where the audience is concerned.
A Very Leila Christmas runs tonight (Thursday), Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at The Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors), available online or at the door an hour before show time.