Monday, November 21, 2005
Gentle humor shines in Foster's Flight Path

WHO: Playhouse West

WHAT: "Here On The Flight Path ," by Norm Foster

WHERE: Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Civic Drive at Locust, Walnut Creek

WHEN: Wednesdays-Sundays through Dec. 3

HOW MUCH: $28-$31


Starting with Mike Myers and Jim Carrey, then running through the writing staff of "Saturday Night Live" and many of the gilt-edged grads of Second City, a good case could be made for Canadians setting the humor agenda for the United States. Our neighbors to the north have developed a keen sense of what's funny. So, in a way, it's surprising that one of Canada's top comedic playwrights, Norm Foster, is so, well, conventional and, for some, perhaps a little tame.

The humor is sharp in Foster's shows, such as "Here on the Flight Path," currently being performed by Walnut Creek's Playhouse West. But there is very little cutting edge or experimental to Foster's work.

He is a prolific playwright whose trademark has become a warm, gentle sort of humor that prompts as many nudges of recognition as it does belly laughs. And perhaps that's why the writer is so popular with area audiences. Many local theater groups have discovered just how charming Foster is to audiences, and have turned the East Bay into one of the hot spots for the Foster Funnybone.

His jokes are contemporary, at least in terms of their targets, but the presentation is one of a less super-heated era, when rant, rage and irony were not frequently used tools in the comedian's gag bag. Foster's lines don't stab, they poke, poke fun at the everyday silliness of human animals such as John (David Hern) in "Flight Path."

John, who is divorced from his wife, is a longtime resident of the Canadian Aurora Terrace Apartments, which are a mile from downtown and on the flight path of a busy airport. The man's social life is built around his buddies and the ever changing tenants, particularly the unattached women, who move into the apartment with the terrace adjoining his.

As "Flight Path" moves through its three acts, we see John involved in three neighborly affairs with vastly different women. First, there is Fay (Teresa Wilkes Levine), a prostitute who has the misfortune of getting tossed out of apartments when the landlords discover her profession. As it turns out, John overhears her setting up an assignation with a client. Fay begs him not to tell on her, and hints at the possibility of rewards. John denies he is interested in anything but friendship, and they do become friends, although there is considerable flirting. Nature, however, doesn't take its course in this one.

Angel (Rebecca Schweitzer) is the next tenant. She is a perky young girl away from home for the first time and bent on a show business career. She seems a bit smitten with John, but the air quickly goes out of that balloon when she reminds her neighbor he's about her father's age.

Finally, there is Gwen (Lisa-Marie Newton), a woman who has just split from her husband and has traveled nearly all the way across Canada to get away from him. John is eager to comfort the crying damsel, and seems to be making rapid progress. Small talk reveals her husband is a Vancouver homicide detective who packs a gun.

It's just a lot of good-natured flirting throughout, but each of the friendships, developed over humorous dialog and observations, goes deeper than a wink and a nod, creating some engaging situations, enhanced by top-notch acting and a nice, easy performance atmosphere created by director Lois Grandi.

Pat Craig is the Times theater critic. He can be reached at 925-945-4736 or at