HARRY'S CHRISTMAS by Steven Berkoff, directed by Brian Murray, with Michael Kash. Presented by Bridge Productions at the Alley Theatre Workshop (12 Ossington). Opens tonight (Thursday, November 10) and runs to December 10, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 3 pm. $25. 416-703-9211.
Think Christmas is the happiest time of the year? For some it's the most depressing. Just look at Harry, the sole character in Steven Berkoff's Harry's Christmas. It's four days before December 25 and Harry's alone, counting and recounting the six holiday greeting cards he's received.
There's no merrymaking in his immediate future.
Actor Michael Kash, playing the part in Bridge Productions' upcoming show, understands the mood that's overtaken Harry. The actor links it to the memory of his grandfather's first Christmas spent in a hospital.
"It was the saddest holiday singsong I've ever witnessed," says Kash, "and a sign of the loneliness that hits a lot of people during the so-called festive season. I'm something of a cynic when it comes to Christmas. It's always a bit scary to watch holiday fever take hold of people."
The show marks the third in a year for the young company, which Kash founded with the idea of keeping a theatrical corridor open between Toronto and New York City, where he spent a decade living and working.
He's proud of having raised funds for the productions The Chinese Art Of Placement and Squeeze Box are the other two all on his own.
"I've had to hire myself," he laughs, "since even with a Dora nomination" for Pounding Nails In The Floor With My Forehead "I can't get an acting job here. It's different in New York, where there are possibilities even if you're an unknown. After some New York theatre people saw a rehearsal of Pounding Nails, for instance, I got called in for auditions."
His New York connections got him his director for Harry's Christmas, Brian Murray, a well-known actor and director who's worked on Broadway and London's West End.
The two did a reading in New York of an Irish script (Kash loves playing with accents), and when they got chummy, Kash asked Murray to helm the Berkoff work.
"We both love the bluntness of the piece, the way Berkoff reveals what's under the surface of human existence. And I've always been a fan of the underdog, which is how Harry would see himself as the play starts.
"Brian's approach is that Harry, an educated but not polished Londoner, is full of hope. The audience won't be sitting through an hour of gloom."
The piece also has some comedy, even if some of it's of the self-deprecating variety.
Kash has created a detailed history for this character, whose happiest Christmas plan is to cheer up his ailing mother.
"There's a Harry 'was' and a Harry 'is,'" explains the actor. "At one point he was effervescent, outgoing and had a lot of friends and dates. But it's clear he has a temper as well as a sense of humour; something went wrong that caused a breakup with his girlfriend, Clara.
"The Harry we see is alone, trying to rally himself, reconnect with friends including Clara and convince himself that Christmas isn't that bad. But it's not easy for him to get away from the guilt that defines a lot of his life."
Kash has consciously chosen to mount the play just before the holiday rush starts.
"I'm hoping," he says, "that when people leave the theatre, caught up in their own plans for Christmas, they'll remember and be empathetic toward others who don't have something to look forward to."