Warning: May contain spoilers
Fringe viewing tip: Do not go see plays when you are in need of a nap.
This is a play I wound up at largely because when I had earlier looked at the big board in the Exchange, none of the plays that were starting in the near future, really appealed to me. Plus, when I had been at the Canwest Theatre Canwest Theatre the previous night, Martin Dockery the playwright and performer of the Holy Land Experience has been working the lineup and from what he had said, I thought it might be worth a go.
The set for The Holy Land Experience was even more sparse than the one for Minding Dad. This time around there was simply a plain, wooden chair and Dockery brought with him a bottle of water which along with keeping his throat moist for storytelling, served effectively for changes of scene.
The play opens in a Canadian airport terminal, where Dockery is being questioned about why he is coming into Canada. He has prepared a careful lie that falls apart but which is forgiven by the customs official that he is dealing with.
As we listen to Dockery tell his story, he tells us that when preparing for this very early morning trip, he was awakened by his alarm clock and the Christmas carol, O Come All Ye Faithful. When he hear line, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem, he decides he needs to spend his next Christmas in Bethlehem.
This begins a year long search that starts in an amusement park in Florida called The Holy Land Experience, and yes, such a place does actually exist. Such a place is a never ending mine of comedic gold for anyone, especially for so gifted a storyteller as Dockery. Yet, you get a sense that on some level Dockery wishes he could believe, if not in the world of the theme park, at least in the stories that created it.
Shortly after this Dockery’s relationship breaks down as he has been making promises he doesn’t intend to keep. Fast forward to the end of the year, and Dockery is in the Holy Land, not the theme park, but in Israel itself. He has followed through and made his trip to Bethlehem, culminating with the Christmas eve services. Once again he is on the verge of repeating the same mistakes he has made in the past.
Yet the experience in Bethlehem has changed him and he has discovered what really matters to him. This is not a faith experience as would typically be defined in a church setting, but nonetheless he has come to an important realization about himself. Is it a Christmas miracle? I’m not sure Dockery himself is certain, but he has certainly been changed, and an encounter with a man who may or may not be angel gives a little bit more to ponder.
Ultimately what makes this play work is Dockery’s storytelling abilities. There is an active and intense physicality to his style that gives you a sense of the intensity with which he struggling to find his way. The show is also enhanced by Dockery’s observations on what it’s like to be a Catholic(however nominal) traveling through Israel. While not essential to the plot of the play, these observations contribute to the sense of the search that Dockery is on.
This is definitely a show that you want to add to any list of shows that you intend to see. Dockery is a brilliant story, who has a story that is worth telling. Who knows, it might even start you off on your own journey.
Venue #13 -U of W Asper Centre for Theatre and Film 400 Colony St. – Enter from Balmoral St. Recommended for mature audiences.