Bravo for Bedtime

Derek Ritschel and Melodee Finlay tell one of the six tales in Norm Foster's Bedtime Stories.

Sextet of stories is both funny and poignant

By Gary Smith
The Hamilton Spectator
(June 9, 2007)

You'll laugh yourself silly at Bedtime Stories.

The latest Norm Foster comedy to play Port Dover's cosy Lighthouse Festival Theatre is a winner.

With director Chris McHarge and a crack cast of first-rate comics-romping through Foster's sextet of bedroom comedies, you're in very fine hands.

Though the humour is off-the-wall, with sight gags galore, there's a serious undertone in Foster's related series of witty vignettes.

You can't help but feel for the over-the-hill stripper with the ice pack up her kimono. Accident-prone and tired, she grinds her behind as usual but without much enthusiasm.

She's just one example of the way Foster turns humour into pain. It's not until she's almost out the door, defeated but still unbowed, that we cry for her desperation.

That's a measure of Foster's genius -- a capacity he shares with American playwright Neil Simon. This ability to suck us in with laughter then calmly turn the knife, gives the best of his comic plays a wildly beating heart.

As well as Melodee Finlay's wonderfully bedraggled exotic dancer, Foster gives us a whole host of comic characters out there on the edge.

Richard Bauer is a lumpy Tommy Quick, an aging shock rocker packed into black tights with a wicked codpiece. His encounter with a teenage grunger, who wants to shack up for the night, is both funny and rueful. Shot through with a touch of regret, this comic moment is also fuelled by a sense of the way reckless rebellion gives way to caution as we reach our vulnerable older years.

Karen Coughlin gives the teenage fan a soft interior, obscured by rough exterior edges. And Bauer is a revelation, creating the curious dichotomy between a very public persona and a serious private image.

Derek Ritschel is both funny and sad as Eddie (Nighthawk) Nichols, a driven radio personality determined to make it to the big time no matter how many hearts he has to break along the way.

Then there's Ron Gabriel, who plays a 50-something stud ready to make magic in a hotel bedroom with his sweetly available wife.

Foster ties all six of his bedroom stories together pretty neatly with both predictable and surprising links. Every one of these late-night encounters happens on the night of Tommy Quick's big concert. Every one of them involves characters we can relate to in some serious way.

The cast get in and out of costumes quickly, changing both wigs and personas with amazing aplomb.

Designer William Chesney's evocative bedroom sets also come and go in the blink of an eye.

If you're curious how it's done, you'll get a glimpse during the curtain call.

If there's a fault with Foster's comedy, it's that it's a tad long. It needs to lose about 20 minutes. Those minutes might easily be lopped from the weakest of the sextet here, an attenuated sketch about some bungling burglars that runs out of steam long before it's over.

Director Chris McHarge has done a great job of keeping Foster's little comedies on track. He's encouraged his cast to dig beneath surface to understand just how much sadness there is in the world.

But don't worry, the pain won't stop you laughing your guts out, Foster makes sure of that.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 25 years.

Showtime

What: Bedtime Stories Where: Lighthouse Festival Theatre, Port Dover When: Now through June 16; tickets 1-888-779-7703