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Montreal Gazette reviews Chloe’s Choice

Felicia Schulman-Rowat as Gran

Pat Donnelly from the Montreal Gazette reviews Chloe’s Choice: “An admirable, polished production.”

Read on Montreal Gazette’s website: Theatre review – Chloe’s Choice

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Geordie Productions play tells the story of a girl who finds herself torn between two families and three religions at Christmas

When parents divorce, holiday season can become an emotionally complicated time for their children.

The underlying assumption of Chloe’s Choice: The True But Not Entirely Reasonable Holiday Fable of Chloe Rebecca Ramadan, Aged 9 4/5, by Marcus Youssef, is that seeing a reflection of their own predicament on stage should be therapeutic for children who can no longer count on both parents maintaining the usual family celebrations during the Yuletide season.

In this Geordie Productions play, which opened last weekend at Centaur Theatre, a girl who is almost 10 years old finds herself torn between two families and three religions as the December rush to gift-giving begins.

Just in case we don’t get the earnestly intercultural message quickly enough, Youssef sends out a goofy dead grandmother (Felicia Shulman) who sounds like a former flower child, to address the audience directly.

She tells us that although she was raised Jewish, she experimented with various belief systems during her lifetime, favoured Buddhism, and was also enthusiastic about Zeus and the Ancient Greeks.

Now that she’s caught in an afterlife that she doesn’t believe in or understand, Grandma’s main concern is her granddaughter, Chloe (Charlotte Rogers), who is clearly not happy about dividing her time between two newly formed couples.

Chloe gets upset about little things, like not being able to find the stuffed toy that her Mom and Dad used to place on top of their Christmas tree in lieu of an angel.

Her sort-of-agnostic-Christian father, Steve (Trevor Botkin) promises he will find the ornament. Her new stepmother, Phoebe (Mariah Inger), a Nigerian Muslim who celebrates Christmas, tries to help, too. When they present Chloe with an iPhone, it begins to look as if things are heading in a happy, if materialistic, direction.

But the gift gets nixed by her mother, Miriam (Michell Heisler), who thinks too much screen time can destroy young minds.

Back at the former family home, where Miriam now lives with her new, conservatively Jewish partner, Ben (Carlo Mestroni), Chloe has to deal with an annoying younger step-sibling named Simon (Jennifer Roberts) who keeps a stick worm as a pet.

The problem with message plays is that the characters who are created to represent a point of view, or in this case, a religion, tend to be stereotypical and bland. This pretty much covers all of the grown-ups here, except for wacko ghost granny (whom Shulman plays to the hilt.)

This play really belongs to the two kids. They’re charming and get to do all the wisecracking. It helps that the two actors playing them, Rogers and Roberts, are both funny and likable. (I’d love to see Roberts play Peter Pan some day.)

There’s something about Marjolaine Provençal’s three-level, dollhouse set that calls to mind the J.M. Barrie classic, too. Perhaps it’s the moon-like bedroom window that serves both as door to the roof and a screen to project images.

Having just seen The Book of Mormon, the Musical, a couple of days before Chloe’s Choice, I was struck by how two very different explorations of the nature of belief arrive at a similar conclusion: that the actual narrative adhered to matters less than the unifying nature of a celebration of togetherness.

Chloe’s Choice certainly provides food for parental thought. And this is an admirable, polished production. Children, however, may find the tale somewhat less than gripping.

Chloe’s Choice continues at Centaur Theatre through Sunday. Tickets $14.50 (child) to $18.50 (adult) Call 514-845-9810 or visit www.geordie.ca

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