Saturday, August 18, 2018

Foster Festival Finale leaves the best for last

The third and final offering of the 2018 Foster Festival opened just over a week ago, and it is quickly proving to be the hit of the season.  It is also the second of two World Premieres at the Festival this season.

Canadian playwright Norm Foster has outdone himself this time, crafting a play with an intricate and complex plot, brilliant scene melding and some absolutely spot-on characterizations that take summer theatre to a whole new level.  Expect to see Renovations For Six on many summer theatre playbills starting next season and for several years to come.

Foster clearly knows what his audiences want, and then he takes them to places they never knew existed.  With Renovations For Six he pushes the comedic and dramatic envelope even further, providing us with perhaps his best play to date.

Renovations For Six involves three adult couples, each at different stages of their lives.  The first, Grant and Shayna Perkins, have moved here from Vancouver where both had successful careers.  However, while Grant has a new position as manager of a furniture store, his wife is feeling cast adrift in a way, and contemplates starting up her own Pilates business.  But before that happens, she thinks meeting some new people in their new city is overdue.  After all, they have been here six weeks and have yet to make any new friends.

Maurice Dudet and his wife Veronica Dunn-Dudet have a tense, acidic relationship due in large part to the fact Maurice has quit his well-paying engineering job in order to write a novel.  His wife, a psychiatrist who feels put upon for now having to shoulder the entire financial load of the family, is firmly in sarcastic mode from the moment we meet her.

Billie and Wing Falterman, meanwhile, are the gem couple in the trio.  Billie is outgoing, suspicious of others and just plain earthy.  Husband Wing (we never do find out why he is named Wing, incidentally) is a more down-to-earth sort who works hard for a living as the top salesman at Grant's furniture store.  Together they used to have a successful song and dance act, which Billie longs to return to.

All three couples come together in one generic home, with furniture covered for renovations.  This cleverly allows director Patricia Vanstone to skillfully have all three couples use the same set with no changes, oftentimes appearing in the same home at the same time yet in their own dwellings.  The set design by Peter Hartwell is creatively outfitted with oversize paint chips depicting colours each has chosen for their chosen renovations.

Vanstone keeps the pace lively and takes advantage of every opportunity to accentuate the conflicts furthering the plot, culminating in the trademark Foster finale of exposing the demons in each of the characters and how it affects the others in the cast.  It is brilliant writing on the part of Norm Foster.

The characterizations are uniformly good and finely drawn, although I found Wes Berger's portrayal of Grant Perkins strangely stiff and wooden in the early going, a fact that seems at odds with his readiness to jump into the sack for a 'quickie' with his wife Shayna at every opportunity.  As the play progresses and we find out why he is not spending more quality romantic time with his wife, his meanness and nasty streak makes his characterization much more believable.  For her part, Cosette Derome as perky Shayna is beautifully portrayed, particularly when her world starts to fall apart as the play progresses.

Real-life couple Peter Keleghan and Leah Pinsent are a pleasure to watch as Maurice and Veronica.  Their painful relationship, culminating in their own revelation at the end, mirrors people I suspect we have all met at parties and ultimately try to avoid.

The pairing of Shaw veterans William Vickers and Nora McLellan as Wing and Billie Falterman is a stroke of genius.  Vickers perfectly captures the essence of Wing, a humble man in a humble position,  yet comfortable in his humbleness.  Nora McLellan has and always will be a national treasure, and I still have memories of her spectacular turn in Gypsy at the Shaw Festival several years ago.  She imbues Billie with the fun and games demeaner of the kid who was always the class clown in school. Her overly creative imagination and suspicious nature easily plays off William Vickers' more stable portrayal as Wing.

The culminating scene of Renovations For Six is described by director Patricia Vanstone as the "cocktail party from hell" and indeed it is.  It reveals all in this telling comedy and leads us to the wordless finale when five of the six characters support Shayna in her time of grief.

Renovations For Six plays for another week in the Cairns Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, and if you have yet to catch it you really should.  It is the highlight of not only this year's Foster Festival, but really, the summer theatre circuit that I've experienced so far.

Tickets are available by going to or calling or visiting the FirstOntario PAC box office.  The number is 905-688-0722,

Enjoy your weekend!

August 18th, 2018.

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