Arts & Entertainment

August 23, 2009

Comedy brilliantly caps summer season

by Doug Avram

It is a brilliant way to finish off a summer season of theatre for the Port Stanley Festival Theatre by producing a Norm Foster play, "Mending Fences". The play itself is a creative insightful masterpiece from one of Canada's best-known and prolific playwrights. His many fans will certainly add this play, "Mending Fences" to their list of brilliant Foster plays. It is witty; it speaks of turbulent times and relationships in Foster's own amicable style that blends reality and comedy. This is a slice of life that is presented, one that we can identify with. It is a play that makes you think, does not give easy or pat answers, does not resolve all the problems, just as in real life. What is does is provide the gritty opportunity for each character to come to stark realizations of their own shortcomings, needs, fears and staid comfort zones while trying to come to grips with an unsettling situation.

Now before you begin to think Foster has delved into dark drama, his characters and the situation they find themselves in are found in our everyday Canadian lives, and he presents, with brilliant wordsmithing, funny moments from each character, warm insights and genuine likable characters. Throughout the entire play, we find much to laugh about, much to smile about and much to ponder (later at least). But during the evening, you are entertained by this masterpiece from Foster.

The story is simple yet easily complicated: an adult son (Drew) returns to the home in Saskatchewan that he never liked, to a father (Harry) he never knew and has had no contact with for the past 13 years. The father has stubbornly persisted in living in his prairie home after his wife and son left and now he does not know how to react to the son he does not know while at the same time trying to maintain a very easy going relationship with a widow neighbour who is a source of strength and sensibility for both father and son.

Bringing Foster's work to energetic and creative life is the excellent directing of Simon Joynes (PSFT artistic director) whose sense of comedic timing is unparalleled and shown to its talented best in this production. There is no lag in the play, it moves along without seeming haste yet smoothly as a well-oiled machine bringing out the brilliance of Foster's intent. Joynes used the talents of his three actors on stage to their strengths and they performed splendidly.

Terry Barna in the role of Harry and Susan Johnston Collins as Gin are superb in their respective roles. There is an easy comfortable chemistry between these two actors that brings us into their characters, makes us like them, and makes us believe in their relationship on stage. Barna and Collins are brilliant in this production. This is the second production of this season that PSFT theatregoers have seen Barna who was wonderful in "Harvest". He is fast becoming a favourite at the PSFT. It took most of the first act for Matthew Gorman as Drew to ease into his role but by the end of the first act and certainly in the second act, he and Barna were well established in their roles and provided great moments of emotional turmoil and characterizations. There is a monologue by Collins in the second act that is simply fantastic and one that was marvelously performed. It reached out and grabbed the audience's attention and hearts.

There are many elements that go into making a production as good as this one is. A fantastic set design and set decoration by Eric Bunnell, a capable stage manager, Lani Martel and good lighting design by Karen Crichton as notable because we see their results on stage. As Artistic Director Joynes pointed out however, there are many people, sponsors and volunteers that make a production a success and all involved have reason to smile with this last production of the summer season.

This is a wonderful production and a must see to enjoy play. It runs an extra week until Sept. 5 at the PSFT.

Doug Avram is an Aylmer-based freelance writer.