|Norm Fosters Another Winner|
A World Premiere by Norm Foster
Directed by Max Reimer
at the du Maurier Ltd. Centre, 190 King William Street, Hamilton, Ontario
For tickets, call the Box Office at 905-522-7529 or toll-free 1-800-465-7529
April 3 to 20, 2002
Evenings at 8pm Saturday matinees at 2pm
Review by Morton Fogsangler
The friendly woman with the Scottish accent at Theatre Aquarius who handed me my program said, "You are in for a belly full of laughs." Of course she was right. Self Help was written by Norm Foster. In case you are from the planet Zoltan, or some country other than Canada, I should point out that Norm Foster is "Canada's preeminent comic playwright", "Canada's Neil Simon", "Canada's most prolific and most produced playwright". You get the idea. This man is Canadian (in fact lives in Ancaster, which is almost the same thing), writes a lot of plays, and they are funny. Not laughing at a Norm Foster play could be considered by some to be positively unpatriotic.
Canadians attending Self Help need have no fear for their reputations as chortling patriots; bellies will indeed be full of laughs. Foster states, "When I wrote Self Help I was going for a smart, flat-out fun play." Well, he did it, and we are fortunate to witness its world premiere here in Hamilton. A world premiere also gives the audience a chance to see how the director handles a work which he or she has not had the opportunity to see elsewhere. Max Reimer, the Managing Artistic Director of Theatre Aquarius, is the first to get his creative hooks into this play, and he gives it the sendoff it deserves.
Cindy and Hal are a couple. They are also a couple of poor struggling actors. Cindy decides that there has to be a better way to make a living and hits upon the idea of their becoming self-help gurus. Jump ahead seven years, and they are indeed at the pinnacle of self-help success, the rich wise-persons at the top of the mountain. But the warmth of their personal lives has been cooled by the altitude, and their professional status isn't likely to be advanced by the presence of a naked dead man in their study.
Much of the play's humour centres around the size and stiffness of the nude corpse's stick shift. There are the obligatory moves of the body from one room to another. These have been used in other plays, and are probably overused in this one, although at one point Foster introduces a neat twist in the routine.
Almost all the elements of this production are top-notch. Patricia Yeatman as Cindy has a great range in both the comic and dramatic registers. Following very close behind her is Brian McKay as her husband. Jo-Anne Kirwan Clark plays their friend and agent Ruby. She is almost perfectly cast, with a voice that suggests too many cigarettes, cocktails, late nights and bad men. But the actor who seizes the footlights is Catherine Fitch who plays Bernice, the maid. Everything she does or says elicits laughter from the audience, whether she is on stage or not. This is her first appearance at Aquarius and hopefully won't be her last. Neil Foster and Robert Latimer competently round out the lesser roles, although Mr. Latimer displayed some opening night stiffness in his.
As you would expect in an Aquarius production the set and costumes, lighting, sound and stage management meet high standards thanks to the skills of Barbara Gordon, Jeff Johnston Collins, Michael Stewart, Beth Bruck and Barbara McLean Wright. The large screen display that is perfectly coordinated with the evangelical hysteria of the self-help seminar scene is a tribute to the technical staff, and a clever touch by playwright and director. Stated in its simplest terms, Self Help is the knee-slapping Canadian theatrical comedy of the year, and should be appreciated by Hamilton audiences, as well as countless audiences for many years to come.