Jasper Station riveting
VPP presents Norm Foster musical with flair
The Sarnia Observer, Tuesday, August 26, 2003
by Karen Robinet

Norm Foster is Canada's most produced playwright, and it just takes one visit to Victoria Playhouse Petrolia to see why. The playhouse is currently presenting Foster's musical Jasper Station, an energetic and enlightening peek into the lives of five people at a crossroads. When they all come together at a train station one night, they end up sharing experiences that will help shape the rest of their lives.

Foster's success lies with his unerring ability to create unique characters that are vibrant and real. We don't just like these characters, we know them, and it's this familiarity with their hopes and dreams that endears them to us. As the characters of Jasper Station reveal themselves, it becomes readily apparent that Foster is equally at home analyzing and interpreting the lives of a dissatisfied middle-aged woman (Jayne Lewis) and an almost pathologically timid accountant who dreams of bigger things. A brash, young reporter, a self-styled rebel and an aging hockey player... these characters are all brought to life with all the qualities that make them human, and familiar.

At the centre of the story is the stationmaster, handily played by veteran stage actor Brian McKay. As well as immersing himself in the role of the cynical, yet vulnerable Bert, McKay also appears in a charming selection of minor roles, bringing warmth and life to people who linger in the minds of the audience, long after their characters have disappeared from the stage. Billed as a "funny musical," theatregoers will find it's much more than that. It's a poignant, and bittersweet exploration of how we as human beings connect with one another, and how we sometimes reveal ourselves more fully to strangers than to those whom we love most. It's a story of friendship and hope, and it leaves the audience rooting for not just one or two of the characters, but all of them, thanks to the guiding hand of director Marc Richard, who has done an outstanding job assembling this ensemble. Jasper Station is a story that resonates with both humour and pathos, and should be a must-see on anyone's list of wonderful Canadian plays.

The acting in Jasper Station is top-notch, beginning with McKay, who has honed his skills over the course of almost 200 productions in North America, not just as an actor, but as a writer and director as well. He is joined onstage by Ed Sahely, who steals the show as Sterling, the accountant who aspires to country songwriter stardom. However, with titles like If Loving You Is Easy, Why Did The Doctor Prescribe This Cream?, dripping from his pen, giving up his day job could be a mistake. Sterling's relentless dithering over whether or not to actually leave Canada to pursue his dream leaves the audience in stitches, and his powerful vocals resonate throughout the show's many musical interludes. Also strong on vocals is Michelle Doyle, who plays Nikki. Girded in an emotional suit of armour, Nikki is at the train station on her way to the ultimate planetary escape. Pregnant and alone, she too dreams of a better life. Brenley Charkow is endearing as Rebecca, the annoying reporter who's desperately looking for the big story that will make her career. Little does she realize that she's living it at Jasper Station. Rounding out the cast is latecomer Jason Chesworth, who replaces Mark Uhre as Henry, the 31-year-old hockey player who has finally been 'called up' to the NHL. Chesworth is very good as the young man still struggling for his father's approval.

Filled with sidesplitting moments, and toe-tapping musical numbers, Jasper Station is a show not to be missed. Jasper Station runs at the VPP until Sept. 6. Tickets are available by calling 882-1221 or 1-800-717-7694 or on line at www.victoriaplayhousepetrolia.com