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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Cariboo Magi is a tasty treat with a sour centre

Holiday romp through Canadian history makes only cursory nods to racial tensions

Cariboo Magi takes a cadre of Wild West archetypes on a Christmas-time adventure full of hijinks, reveals, and heart. While it doesn’t think too hard about the depiction of its ethnically ambiguous lead, played by Mi’kmaq actor and playwright Zach Running Coyote, it rises to the holiday challenge with heart and an ensemble performance that sings in the chaos.

Cariboo Magi follows Joe Mackey, an orphaned man of uncertain heritage (Running Coyote) as he returns to Gold Rush San Francisco to marry his now very pregnant German sweetheart Marta (Shelby Wyminga). But Joe’s non-white status forces him and his wife to join forces with the desperate French saloon owner Fanny Dubeau as she and a fallen Anglican priest Rev. William Teller set off to Barkerville, British Columbia to perform a Christmas pageant for the miners. Many hijinks ensue.

This play, by Lucia Frangione, makes nods to racial tensions but are then never dealt with. Instead, the show careens past them with a few jokes. The layers of privilege that remain unpacked leave an uncomfortably sour note at the centre of this holiday dessert which could taint the whole thing, depending on the audience.

Script aside, the performances are mostly strong. Shelby Wyminga shines as the resolute and furious Marta Reddy white Zach Running Coyote’s broad smile and cheeky charisma sing throughout. Rose McNeil’s Fanny Dubeau lacks depth until she takes a breath in the second half and finds a grounded note that endears her character through the rest of the show while Stephen Elcheshen’s Rev. William Teller emerges from a passive background character to steal the show right at the end.

The set is lovingly detailed by Ariel Slack and the sound, by Tyler Dumoulin, strikes a sense of period nostalgia without being cloying.

Cariboo Magi is a show that attempts to create a holiday warmth based on a nostalgia for a simpler time where racial politics were noted but then ignored. This complicates the enjoyment of an otherwise lovely holiday romp through Canadian history. The performances are strong, the set is lovely, and the direction by Joelle Wyminga is more than capable. It will be up to the audience as to whether that sour taste lingers or not.

Cariboo Magi by Lucia Frangione. Directed by Joelle Wyminga. A Far From The Tree Productions. On stage at the Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until December 14. Visit for tickets and information.

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