Hoots, hollers, cheers and tears were emanating from the Lobstick Lodge for the debut of Jasper Theatre Productions‘ outrageous new show, From Jasper, With Love.
On June 26, in anticipation of the production’s June 28 public premiere, a local audience filled the seats of the Lobstick’s Skyline Lounge, delighted to be the first theatregoers to take in the hour-long sketch comedy by newly-minted Jasperites Joost Tijssen and Pieter van Loon.
They weren’t disappointed. After a short introduction, the Netherlands ex-pats got into quirky character, delivering their razor-sharp lines with brilliant comedic timing. In highlighting what makes Jasper National Park so endearing for residents and visitors alike, they lovingly lampoon locals, tenderly tease tourists and playfully poke fun at Parks Canada. The satire is spot-on as the actors traverse a trail of Jasper-specific situations which engender universal, relatable reactions. Although scripted, the play has an exciting element of improv, due in part, surely, to the Dutch duo’s training in that genre of theatre games, but also from the always-improvisational positions of working as servers in busy Jasper restaurants.
The premise of the play is simple enough: convince the audience not to fall in love with Jasper. “Warn, protect, save!” Tijssen and van Loon chant, before delving into their tourist “tips,” advice which will help innocent visitors avoid the pains of the heartbrokenness they’ll eventually suffer when they have to move on from Jasper.
“You thought you were going to a fun play about Jasper, about two people falling in love with this beautiful place,” they begin. “No! We are here to warn you, to protect you, to save you from this little town.”
The actors explain that they themselves were only supposed to be here for six months.
“And then? Jasper.”
With athletic physical comedy, using hilariously-exaggerated props and by interacting with the audience (which is mere metres away from the two stages Tijssen and van Loon designed specifically for the room and the script), the cast of two riff on local tropes, demonstrating how quickly they’ve ingrained themselves with the community, all the while keeping it relatable for an audience of visitors. They intersperse each sketch with enough Jasper trivia and tourism truths that the play is (in the very best way) not unlike a series of live-acted memes—funny on first glance, hysterical if you get the deeper references.
The fact that Tijssen and van Loon’s script has so many deep cuts is a testament to their ability to make fast friends. In an hour that races by as fast as their white-sneakered feet carry them around the room, the neophyte mountain dwellers throw perfect darts at unprepared campers, overzealous wildlife watchers, extra-ambitious sightseers and ultra-“helpful” locals. Hopping into a host of ridiculous characters such as Eddie the Elk and the seductive Madam (Lake) Annette, Tijssen and van Loon nail the summer vibe in J-town: bustling, beautiful and charmingly chaotic.
Like the town they fell in love with not even a year ago, amid the frenzy, Tijssen and van Loon’s play has at its heart a wholesome pull. The actors themselves radiate exuberance, and between the laughs there is genuinely good guidance for making the most out of one’s trip to Jasper, no matter how long that stay is. Whether it’s a dark skies viewing recommendation or a tip of their hats to the kids that call the community home, there is an honest, heartfelt component to each act that draws you into the story. It’s easy to see how when they’re not producing and promoting their play, Tijssen and van Loon would be great at waiting tables.
While the play is aimed at tourists, From Jasper With Love gives enough witty winks to locals that it’s this reviewer’s opinion that every Jasper resident ought to get their (free for the first week!) tickets to see this excellent act. Beyond the tourism-specific yuks, however, it’s apparent that Tijssen and van Loon’s summer-long show is something special. Audiences will fall in love with the the smart script, the simple and brilliant props and the passionate performances from these two talented thespians.
But be prepared, you also might fall in love with Jasper all over again.
From Jasper With Love runs Tuesdays to Saturdays, all summer long, at 8p.m. at the Lobstick Lodge. Tickets are available here.
Bob Covey // email@example.com