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Theatre Orangeville raises the bar with Foster’s Mending Fences
REVIEW: by James Matthews
April 11, 2016
Contributed Photo Theatre Orangeville's production of Norm Foster's drama-comedy Mending Fences ends this weekend. Foster as Harry, Heather Hodgson as Gin and a couple other characters, and Derek Ritschel as both the adult and young Drew are seamless under the direction of David Nairn, the company's artistic director. Photo by Pete Paterson


This is the most difficult play review I’ve had to write. The most trying anything I’ve had to write. About a quarter of the way through Theatre Orangeville’s latest production, another Norm Foster work, I was stricken with the realization I would have to come up with a new way to describe Genius.

My consternation isn’t borne of that narrow line walked writing a review: How you tell about a production without giving anything away. It’s describing something while not telling about it. That’s the hiccup. Saying something’s genius without trotting out one of the tired clichés too many scribblers settle into in such situations. Words have never failed me before.

The difficulty writing this is not because the production was lacking in any way and I have reservations about pointing out shortcomings. Quite the contrary. Theatre Orangeville’s production of Norm Foster’s dramedy Mending Fences was sublime. I wish that word didn’t take the air out of what’s being described. But this play is one of the rare things that actually merits the use of the descriptor.

Mending Fences is directed by the astute David Nairn, artistic director at Theatre Orangeville. It stars Foster as Harry, Heather Hodgson as Gin and a couple other characters, and Derek Ritschel as both the adult and young Drew. And how effectively the audience registers the actors becoming their other characters is a testament to the skill of Steve Lucas, the company’s set and lighting designer. Mending Fences will run until April 17 at the Town Hall Opera House. The play is billed as a story of the past, present, and possibly future relationships. Harry Sullivan hasn’t seen his son Drew in years. And now Drew is coming to Harry’s Saskatchewan ranch for a visit.

This poignant comedy tells the story of two men who are too stubborn to give in to feelings of the heart. Mending Fences portrays human drama that is relevant to anyone who has ever been a parent, a son or daughter. And there’s the new woman in Harry’s life, played by Hodgson, and the effect she has on Drew’s relationship with his estranged father. Hodgson also plays Harry’s former wife, Drew’s mother.

As with many of Foster’s works, the audience is awed by a masterpiece of timing, dialogue, and it’s natural delivery. Foster has long ago proven he’s a master at dialogue. This guy knows how real people talk and the echo of real people speaking comes through his pen. The dialogue is tack sharp in Mending Fences. The humour, one-liners and such, are precise in timing and actor’s tone of voice. The mental defense mechanisms we use to divide our emotional lives are the fences referenced in the title and the play itself. It speaks to how we all keep the things tamped down that are difficult to look at within ourselves. “Just fix your fence, will ya?” a character said early in the production. I forget which. But it doesn’t matter who’d said it. The universal truths, of which this script is laden, can be said by anybody. You fix your fences and keep your inner life manageable. “Just fix your fence, will ya?” And you fix your fences to maintain the integrity of interpersonal relationships with the people who really matter.

So what is it that keeps us all from fixing our fences as easily as that character makes it sound? “If you say it but never show it, it makes the saying hollow.” That’s even true in reviewing a great play and only using tired words like Sublime. Yeah, Norm Foster is a genius and Nairn has proven himself more than competent on stage and behind the scenes many times. Hodgson and Ritschel wear their roles like clothes. The stage setup is inviting. It’s really too bad this review didn’t do the play and its production the proper justice. “We all have choices in life, and some of them aren’t easy,” says another character. Just like trying to choose words better than the obvious to describe the beauty in Theatre Orangeville’s latest offering.

James Matthews covers Orangeville council, arts and sports. He can be reached at Follow the Orangeville Banner on Twitter and Facebook.