The Wellington Advertiser
Theatre Orangeville offers world premiere of must-see comedy
REVIEW: by Chris Daponte
Norm Foster and Patricia Vanstone in Theatre Orangeville's production of On A First Name Basis. 2013. Photo by Pete Paterson


Forty-nine scripts into a prolific and acclaimed career, Norm Foster continues to offer something fresh and exciting with each and every playwrighting effort. In fact, his latest play, now enjoying its world premiere at Theatre Orangeville, is as funny and enthralling as his first hit play 30 years ago.

On A First Name Basis tells the story of 62-year-old David Kilbride (played by Foster), a successful and wealthy spy novelist, and his dedicated housekeeper of 28 years, Lucy Hopperstaad (Patricia Vanstone). One evening, David sparks up a conversation that quickly reveals how little he actually knows about the woman with whom he has spent half his life. The discussion starts off with both characters chastising the other about trivial matters - as they have done for years, it seems - but it quickly transforms into a life-altering encounter.

With the conversation guided by David, who now wants to know everything about Lucy, no detail is left out, no matter how personal or embarrassing. In his quest for the whole story, David opens himself up to similar queries from Lucy, resulting in a reciprocal catharsis that slowly reveals that despite various historical and socio-economic differences, the pair has more in common than either of them first imagined.

Foster, renowned for his playwrighting abilities, is one of Canadian theatre’s best kept acting secrets. While his on-stage abilities will never surpass his playwrighting gifts, Foster has proven time and again that he is a mighty fine actor in his own right. He says he never intended to write the role of David Kilbride for himself, but he realized he’s the same age as the character, and came around to the idea after it was suggested by Theatre Orangeville’s artistic director David Nairn. Foster effortlessly transforms into David Kilbride, and seems to revel in portraying the character’s pompous side - perhaps because it is so far removed from his real-life persona.

Foster has remarkable chemistry and timing with Vanstone, who is an absolute delight as Lucy Hopperstaad. Whether hilarious one-liners, emotional revelations, or sarcastic platitudes about her boss, Vanstone’s delivery is flawless. Her performance is impressive and captivating, even for a theatre veteran of her pedigree.

The set design by Beckie Morris is astounding. It may only be one room, but her remarkable attention to detail helps the audience become fully immersed in the story.

Predictably, as is often the case with a Foster production, the real backbone of the play is the phenomenal script. During a “talk-back” session following the April 4 preview performance, Foster lightheartedly referred to the script as “very wordy.” “This one I really tried ... to make the play smart, the language smart, and the humour smart, instead of just going for the cheap laugh - which I’m not above doing,” Foster said to much laughter. Indeed, there is no farcical plot or outlandish physical humour here - as with some previous Foster plays - but the witty dialogue and remarkable character development keeps audiences wildly entertained and amused from start to finish. That’s not to say there aren’t a few cheap laughs and dirty jokes mixed in, but the real strength of Foster’s 49th play, as with his first hit, is its thorough and ingenious exploration of two complex yet endearing characters.

On A First Name Basis plays five shows a week until April 21. For tickets call 519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295 or visit April 12, 2013