Hamilton Spectator.......................ARTS NOW....................September 30, 2004

Comedy dissects life and love

 

 
Janet Monid, John Dolan and C. David Johnson in the Theatre Aquarius production of The Love List.  
 

by Gary Smith

 

If you don't have tickets for Norm Foster's hip comedy, The Love List, you'd better hurry up. When word gets around how much fun this urbane look at life, love and sex really is, Theatre Aquarius phones are going to ring off the wall. Now, I know some folks are sniffy about Norm Foster comedies. Blame that on the snob thing. For years the same folks hated everything Neil Simon put on Broadway. Fact is though, the big guy from Ancaster has mostly come up trumps with everything he's written.

Well, The Love List is no exception. It's funny, sophisticated and sexy- with just enough edge to keep you nailed to your seat. Two middle-aged guys try to create a list of attributes that will define the perfect female. When hotshot writer Leon and his more sensitive nebbish pal Bill put down on paper the things that turn their libidinous cranks, the luscious Justine appears. The world turns upside down. What might be a simple sex farce approaches something more serious as Foster looks at the way men look at women.

Major treat of this funny evening is the wonderful Janet Monid, reveling in the sexy role of turned-on Justine. Monid is one of the hidden treasures of theatre in this country and she has a real ball letting her hair down here, shaking off designer clothes to romp in silky blue nightie. She's playful, funny and electrically charged, romping through Max Reimer's first-rate staging like some sex kitten. C. David Johnson, late of Street Legal, is good too as Leon, the less sensitive member of this befuddled trio. And John Dolan, looking like some roly-poly leprechaun, has great fun with the role of Bill, discovering excitedly the real joys of easy, available sex. Dennis Horn's reconstructionist factory loft set is terrific, with a raw wood and brick look perfect for Foster's energized comedy.

Of course, the play strains credulity, most comedies do, so it doesn't do to dwell on the insanity too seriously. Vocal projection was a tad too low at the start of Saturday's matinee but things picked up noticeably after the first scene. If you want to laugh yourself silly and don't mind sexy banter The Love List is for you: Foster uncensored with gloves off and defences tugged down. Go have fun.

 

THE SCENE reviews The Love List

by Kerry Corrigan

 

Norm Foster conjures an intriguing premise in The Love List-what if a list of the ten most desirable qualities in a woman was to materialize? Can there ever be such a thing as perfection in a person? In a delightful mix of adult humour and classic comic timing, The Love List tackles social expectations and the challenge of romance in a "what if?' of crazy consequences. And at Theatre Aquarius, Foster' clever comedy is given spirited direction by Max Reimer, who is blessed with a shining trio of actors.

Bill the statistician has been single ever since his wife left him for being too boring. Quite frankly, his lonely life in an open concept San Francisco apartment piled high everywhere with research documents is all he needs, at least on the surface. But best buddy Leon, a minor novelist whose own marriage has so far withstood his infidelities, thinks differently, and he's probably right. Bill needs to get into the scene again, and what better way than a dating service? Leon has decided that the perfect 50th birthday present for his old buddy Bill is a date through Got-A-Match, which is suspiciously run by a "gypsy". Imagine their surprise when the embodiment of their fantasy walks through the door as soon as they're done the list, acting like she and Bill have an established relationship, and displaying precisely the qualities the guys wished for. And of course, lucky for them, they used a pencil. For revisions and corrections soon become necessary and although the escalating results are predictable, as a perfect woman shows that even she can't live up to the expectations, the audience is treated to the manic struggle of two basically sincere guys faced with God-like powers.

There's gentle humour about living realistically in terms of one's demands, with the more x-rated tone that Foster's been dabbling in lately. But unlike Self Help, which went way too far in its double entendres and smutty premise, The Love List gets edgy without offending. For example when Leon asks Bill if he's ever had incredibly good oral sex, Bill replies, "I didn't know it could be bad." John Dolan and C. David Johnson strike the perfect note as the two conniving men.

Everybody loves it when the mousy guy gets a good-looking dame, and Dolan plays up the nerdier aspects of Bill without making him a caricature. Johnson maintains our affection for Leon with an easy charm, even as he espouses his antiquated, sexist theories on marriage and love. As Justine, the woman of Bill's (and too often Leon's) dreams, Janet Monid sparkles, bringing warmth (and good sex) back into Bill's life while ful-filling his every whim. When the boys start switching items on the list in increasing desperation, she makes her lightning changes with notable agility.

Reimer once again displays his firm grasp of the genre, making sure the characters relate on the stage, while banging through the humour in the short scenes with the right tone. Set designer Dennis Horn contributes an airy space for Bill's apartment, with blonde wood, exposed brick and large windows that lighting designer Jeff Collins uses to good effect. I'll admit to skepticism upon hearing that Reimer had decided to open the Aquarius season with The Love List. After all, aren't Norm Foster's small-cast, one-set comedies more suited to closing a season? But after the lively night of whimsy that The Love List offered, the decision proves sound.

 

Tuesday, November 4, 2003 ____________ARTS ________The Hamilton Spectator /D13

A play to make spirits soar

 

Foster comedy at Theatre Aquarius is just the antidote to dreary November

 
by Gary Smith  
Janet Monid as Angel in Here On The Flight Path
 

Need a laugh? Do youself a favour. Get to Here On The Flightpath, an insightful comedy that rips the lid off male-female relationships.

You can almost always count on Norm Foster to give your spirits a lift. But, when you have a trenchant, two-character comedy that also starts the prolific playwright--along with his sensational wife Janet Monid--you just know you're in for a treat.

Flightpath is a hilarious look at a screwed-up nerd's relationships with three attractive women. For John Cummings, living on the edge of Toronto's Pearson Airport, the coming and going of jet planes is simply a metaphor for the way life flies by. When you don't grab tomorrow by the tail, you're left on the edge of the runway, on the outskirts of life.

Cummings is a lonesome, likable man who is strung out by a failed marriage and uncertain of his macho attraction. That his aborted attempts at romance with a string of comely female neighbours turns out to alter his oh-so masculine perceptions of love, provides the serious undertow in Foster's comedy.

Here is a male playwright who can write about women without any masculine predjudice. Here is a man who can cut past our preoccupations with fast food and one night stands. And here is a playwright who can create a troubled world in which loneliness and regret knock loudly at the door when you don't take your chance at love.

The Aquarius production of Foster's comedy is deliriously performed. No one is better at fashioning the heart and soul of the lovable galoot than our Norm. He somehow makes sad sacks desperately believable. Before the evening is through, you long to clap your arm around John Cummings' ample shoulder and say, "Hey guy, let's go for a beer. Life isn't as bad as you think."

And Monid? Well, she's simply terrific. She creates three disctinctly different characters here without much aid of visual distraction. She does it the way it's done best, with change of body language and timbre of voice.

As fulsome Fay, she's a hooker with a heart, a woman who longs for something more than high-priced quickies in lonely hotel rooms. As Angel Plunkett, she's a sweetly comic battered spirit, shrieking out a discordant Don't Rain On My Parade, like some demented Barbra Streisand, dreaming of celebrity, but all the while really longing for love. As strung-out Gwen, she's a frustrated loser longing to come up trumps, a free-spirited individual curiously chained by convention. In everything she does here, Monid is right on the money.

To make matters perfect, designer Stephen Newman has provided a realistic terrian for Foster and Monid to perambulate as they play out their innocent games of love.

If I were you, I wouldn't wait. I'd call the Aquarius box office right now before it's too late. Why? Because you deserve Here On The Flightpath to buoy up your soggy spirits. As far as I'm concerned, it's the perfect antidote to a dreary November day.

 

 

Kitchener Waterloo Record.......................ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT....................Monday, November 24, 2003

Waterloo stages Yule treat

 
Shannon Elizabeth Hughes, Ted Follows and Janet Monid in a scene from Norm Foster's Dear Santa at the Waterloo Stage Theatre.  
 

review by HARRY CURRIE

WATERLOO (Nov 24, 2003)

 

Turn Canadian humorist playwright Norm Foster loose on Santa Claus, his North Pole workshop, the elves and sundry other Foster characters and you've got a sure-fire winner. That's exactly what you'll find at the Waterloo Stage Theatre with Foster's play Dear Santa, which is playing through the Christmas season.

Well, with lovable old Santa being played by lovable not-so-old Ted Follows, how could you miss? Padded up to get Santa's girth, Follows has just the right amount of impish glee coupled with the saintliness of Saint Nick to make the character well rounded -- in more ways than one, of course.

In many ways Santa is the toughest role in the play, for he's actually the straight man to the shenanigans of his motley crew and a couple of visitors he hasn't counted on. But Follows, with his years of stagecraft, knows all the tricks of making a character so believable that you can't imagine the role being played by anyone else. Santa is aided and abetted, and sometimes thwarted, by Algernon, his chief of staff, Octavia, his housekeeper, and Bozidar, the workshop foreman.

Terry Barna's Algernon is pompous, self-important, officious to a fault, organized and smug -- in other words he's a pain in the exhaust pipe. Nothing gets by Algernon, and Santa's easy-going nature doesn't mesh well with Algernon's rigid character, but he appreciates that Algernon is indispensable. Barna shows a very different persona here than we've seen from him before, and it only goes to prove what a fine, versatile actor he is.

The only thing that seems to slip by Algernon is the fact that Octavia, the housekeeper, has a crush on him. Superbly played by Janet Monid, Octavia is a bit ditzy and forgetful, sometimes doesn't remember who, what or where she is, but has a gentle way and smile that makes Octavia so endearing that she almost steals the show.

I say almost, for with this strong cast no one could totally steal the show, especially when you've got Randolph J. Johnston being true to form as Bozidar -- larger and louder than life. Johnston brings his joie de vivre to every role he plays, and this is so infectious that the audience cracks up even at his Kramer-like entries and exits. Bozidar has a Polish/Russian/Hungarian hybrid accent, and he butchers the English language every time he opens his mouth: "We have a big problem in the workshop -- it's an apostrophe!" or "It's a sight for four eyes!"

Enter an unexpected guest, Kit Bishop, a stowaway on the supply train. Well played by Shannon Elizabeth Hughes, Kit is an unhappy, rather morose young lady who brings Santa a letter from her young brother Michael. Fulfilling that wish presents Santa with a big problem, and he'd like to find a way of bringing some joy into Kit's life, too. When Kit tries to get home by "borrowing" Santa's sleigh, she crashes it through the barn door.

This is just what another visitor wanted. Lou Flapdoodle, a sleigh salesman from Detroit, has been trying to get Santa to upgrade to a rocket-propelled sleigh, and now's his chance. Smarmily played by Matt Lancaster, Lou is the epitome of a smooth, fast-talking car and sleigh salesman, who pulls out all the stops, including pictures of his wife and kids, to make a sale. The test drive aftermath is hilarious. Little Michael and his mother, played by Tristan Rea and Gill Ireland respectively, arrive at the North Pole toward the end, so Santa has found a solution. Of course -- he's Santa Claus.

The pop-rock-loving elves are played by Rachel Barna (onstage with Dad for the first time), Cory Beetham, Britanie Cameron, Amy Ireland, Kara Lynn Playford and Connor Rea. Another imaginative Stephen Degenstein set and fine direction by Kathryn DeLory make Dear Santa a sure-fire hit for the whole family

 

 

The Affections of May


Lighthearted Comedy Well Done
by Bill Penner
The Guelph Mercury
May 25, 2001
(excerpt)

Happily, Theatre on the Grand's artistic director Chris McHarge has assembled an experienced cast of performers who understand that the laughs only work when the audience truly believes in the characters.

I can genuinely say this is the best production of a Norm Foster play I have ever seen. There were plenty of genuine laughs and tender moments in last night's performance to carry the play smoothly through its two and a half hours.

A bit longer than what contemporary audiences are used to, Affections of May is one of Foster's earlier works. It suffers a little form sit-com syndrome, where time is wasted setting up an easy laugh, but that is easily forgiven due to the extra distance McHarge and his cast covered to create delightful characters.

Both Terry Barna and W.J. Matheson are richly funny.

Barna is the cold and unfeeling husband who deserts his wife for his mistress and urban comforts. His understated cad, who can't communicate with his more free-spirited wife, is played with sleepy-eyed selfishness. Despite being little more than a dramatic foil, Barna is fascinating to watch.

Matheson is Hank, the grown-up nerd who brings a girl to the dance only to watch her go home with somebody else. He brings a sympathetic charm to the role and by the end of the second act I found myself wishing that this time he did get the girl.

In the title role of May, the city girl who opens a bed and breakfast to find a simpler life - and to escape her husband's girlfriend - Janet Monid displays an easy grace.

In a role which calls for her character to tumble from one relationship directly into another, while fighting off the unwanted advances of the nerdy momma's boy, Monid plays it straight, despite the slightly dated sexual politics. And thanks to her charm, we accept it.

Kris Ryan is delightfully quirky as the town outcast who begins to believe in himself thanks to May's kindness. The strongest presence on a stage full of accomplished performers, Ryan displays a great grasp of his character and was responsible for much of the tenderness of the love story which underscores the humour.

Played on an attractive set designed by Christopher Haupt, and lit by lighting designer Wendy Greenwood, the performance had uniformly high production values.

 

 

Play Has Wit, Candour
by Harry Currie
The Kitchener Record
May 26, 2001

Norm Foster is a modern-day Everyman, but with a smile on his face.

The Canadian playwright has an unerring sense of the human condition, but even in his most telling observations he makes his points with humour.

Foster's most produced play, The Affections of May, opened at Theatre on the Grand in Fergus on Thursday, and the combination of wit and candour sparkles in the prose of the script.

The production, directed by christopher McHarge, is first-rate, with a great set, good lighting, and a talented cast. Christopher Haupt designed the set - the interior of an old house turned bed and breakfast - and the attention to detail is exceptional.

The story is one of love lost and love found, of relationships at many levels, and about finding yourself and moving on.

May and Brian Henning have moved to Grogan's Cove, Nova Scotia, from Toronto, to run a B&B.

May loves it, but Brian misses the city so much he decides to leave May and go back to his old job. Of course there's another woman involved.

Left on her own, May just wants to sleep her life away, but to local characters begin to court her in very different ways: Quinn, the local handyman, and Hank, from the bank.

The interplay between the characters is Foster at his best. May resists Hank's advances, but doesn't even realize that Quinn is interested. The hilarious scene after the dress-up Halloween party
- May is Bo-Peep and Hank is in a bunny suit - brings the whole triangle into the open, with a surprising twist.

Terry Barna plays the errant hubby Brian, Janet Monid has the pivotal role of May, W.J. 'Joe' Matheson is Hank from the bank, and Kris Ryan is Quinn, who achieves his own epiphany.

The playwright delivers many serious messages, but you have such fun getting them it doesn't hurt a bit.

 

 

Affections of May Makes Good Comfort Food
by Kim Renders
News Express
May 30, 2001

Comfort food. We crave it. We need it. When the world is too much with us, there is nothing like digging into a plate of salty fries and a milkshake. It's familiarity , a feel-good meal and an antidote to stress.

The Affections of May playing at Theatre on the Grand is exactly this kind of comfort food. There's nothing hard to swallow here. From curtain to curtain, writer Norm Foster serves up an all-you-can-eat buffet of wry comedy and sweet romance. There is no wonder as to why The Affections of May is Foster's most produced play and last Thursday's opening night crowd would certainly attest to its deserved popularity. From the get-go the audience dug right in to this feast of extra-spicy one-liners and ginger-snappy comebacks. Watching this play, one can't help think, 'Gee, I wish I'd said that'. And yet, Foster writes for real people and to be sure there were extra helpings of recognition on everyone's plate opening night.

May, of whose affection the title bespeaks, is the owner and operator of a small town Bed and Breakfast. After she is unceremoniously dumped by her no-goodnik husband she becomes fair game for the town's two lonely bachelors. The story is not altogether unpredictable but that's part of the enjoyment. We savour every familiar mouthful right up to and until the play's final and hoped for conclusion a la mode.

The performers (Terry Barna, W.J. Joe Matheson, Janet Monid, Kris Ryan) deliver what's on the menu with a dash of charm and a splash of home grown goodness. And director Chris McHarge adds just the right touch of garnish to give us a production that not only tastes good, but looks good too.

So head on down to Theatre on the Grand and don't tell your doctor. This'll cure whatever ails you. And remember, it's comfort food. Don't count the calories and pass the salt.

 

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