Thursday, June 19, 2003
Norm Foster is flattered by comparisons to Neil Simon, but a little leery of them, too. Double Duty: In The Long Weekend, playwright Norm Foster plays one of his own characters.
Free Press Arts
& Entertainment Reporter

Playwright Norm Foster is often hailed as "Canada's Neil Simon," but he has mixed feelings about being compared to the American comedy king. "I guess people like to label everything and when I was younger, that one did bother me a bit," says the prolific 53-year-old writer who has penned nearly 30 stage comedies over the last 20 years. "Of course, I'm a big fan of Simon's work and he's certainly not a bad guy to be linked with, but you want to think your writing is totally different from everyone else's," says Foster, whose long list of hit plays includes The Melville Boys, The Affections of May, Office Hours, The Last Resort and Ethan Claymore, which had its world premiere run at London's Grand Theatre in 1998.

Unlike Simon, Foster often performs in his own plays and is currently starring in Port Stanley Festival Theatre's production of The Long Weekend. "I'm definitely a writer first and an actor second, but I'll take a role if it's right for me and the play's being done in a place where I want to spend some time," explains the playwright who is cast as Max, the least sympathetic character in the story about two couples confronting the underlying problems that threaten their seemingly happy marriages.

The Port Stanley show also offers Foster the opportunity to perform with his wife, Janet Monid. "Janet's a very good actor and working with her gives me a real feeling of comfort onstage because I know what to expect." Perhaps the most produced of all Canadian playwrights, Foster is also preparing for the world premiere run of another play, Storm Warning, at the Bluewater Summer Playhouse in Kincardine (July 17 to Aug. 2); his musical Jasper Station to be staged at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia (Aug. 19 to Sept. 6) and Love List, which will premiere in October at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque.

Born and raised in Toronto, Foster was the morning show host on a radio station in Fredericton, N.B., when his first play, Sinners, was produced in 1983 and he kept that on-air post until the spring of 1998. "I could have quit the radio job long before I did, but stayed because I enjoyed the freedom and fun of the broadcasting business so much. Plus,I wasn't sure anyone in Canada could make a living as a full-time playwright," recalls Foster, who now lives in Ancaster with Monid and the couple's two children, Daniel, 14, and Jacqueline, 11. Currently writing the script for Outlaw, his first western, Foster takes a simple approach to his work. "All I want to do is tell a good story that will keep an audience sitting in their theatre seats without fidgeting for two hours, but it also has to be a play that pleases me. I have to enjoy writing it."

Though recently honoured by Theatre Ontario and Playwrights Canada Press for "distinguished service" to this province's theatre community, Foster feels his favourite genre usually isn't given the recognition and appreciation it deserves. "Comedy doesn't ever seem to get the respect that straight drama does -- but that's a pretty minor complaint," he explains.

His future, Foster adds, probably doesn't include writing a serious drama or screenplays for TV or movie versions of his popular comedies. "I just don't think I'd have as much fun working on those projects."

-- -- -- -- IF YOU GO
What: The Long Weekend, a comedy by Norm Foster; a Port Stanley Festival Theatre production directed by Rona Waddington; featuring Norm Foster, Janet Monid, Leisa Way and David Nairn
When: Nightly (8 p.m.), Tuesdays- Saturdays till June 28; matinees (2 p.m.) Wednesdays and Saturdays
Where: Port Stanley Festival Theatre, 6-302 Bridge St., Port Stanley
Tickets: Evenings, $25; matinees, $23; call 519-782-4353 or