Sunday, July 21, 2019

Foster Festival ramps up the fun with Hilda's Yard

The second production of the current season for the Foster Festival at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines is now underway, and it packs plenty of laughs.

Norm Foster wrote Hilda's Yard a few years ago but it is vintage Foster:  clever plot line, great writing and simple sets to make summer theatre staging relatively easy.  It's a nice counterbalance to the more introverted and somewhat sombre tone of the season opener, The Writer last month.

Hilda's Yard is set in 1956 when life was somewhat simpler and certainly appeared more cut and dry. Of course, it only appeared that way in our memory banks.  It was fraught with problems just as our present times are, just different problems.  In the opening scene, for example, Sam Fluck, the patriarch of the household is feeling rather optimistic about life in general and decides it is time to finally invest in that new-fangled technology known as television.  Not colour of course, that is still some time off.

This new-found optimism comes from the realization he and his wife Hilda are now becoming empty nesters, with both son Gary and daughter Janey now moved out to start lives on their own.  Or so mom and dad thought...

The setting for the play is the backyard deck at Sam & Hilda's home where the family was raised and for some unknown reason they never got around to installing a gate to make entry & exit from the backyard easier.  Or maybe it was matter, the resulting fence climbing of most characters in the play creates comic effect that doesn't wear thin as the play wears on.

Both Gary and Janey at different times make that leap of faith over the fence and back into the backyard of their childhoods, ready to move back home with the senior Flucks again until their lives create better luck.

Gary is having trouble finding steady work again and well, being a more impulsive sort he is regularly short on cash.  So he's indebted to his bookie and with payment overdue Gary decides it is time to return to his parents home to avoid the inevitable.

Janey on the other hand is several months into marriage and she has discovered things are not quite what they are supposed to be.  Matrimonial bliss has largely eluded her thus far and rather than stick it out as her parents have done she wonders if she should leave the marriage sooner rather than later.

Sam offers advice to Janey that while keeping with the times, produces groans from the modern-day audience realizing things are different now.  Later in the play Sam clearly shows his embarrassment in his earlier advice to his daughter and makes amends with much sounder advice.

While Sam and Hilda are dealing with their two children returning, guests arrive over the fence.  First over is Bobbi Jakes, a trombone player in a band and Gary's new main squeeze for the past two weeks.  Next over is Beverly Woytowich the bookie, in pursuit of Gary's cash.

Hilda is busy cooking dinner and sees no other alternative than to act as a mediator of sorts by inviting one and all inside to gather around the dinner table, knowing food is a universal method of bringing people together.

This rather unlikely scenario sets us up for lots of laughter and great lines uttered by the entire cast, but most especially by Sam Fluck, played in this production by Norm Foster himself.  One can't help but imagine Foster writing the part for himself to begin with as the dry humour displayed by Sam is so typical of what you would expect from Foster.

Hilda is played by Foster Festival Artistic Director Patricia Vanstone and she is the proverbial glue that holds the family together.  Whether dealing with the absurd family issues she is now presented with or simply talking to her imaginary neighbour out in the audience somewhere while hanging the laundry on the line Vanstone imbues the character with a down-to-earth attitude that wins everyone over from the very beginning.

Together Norm and Patricia, who last worked together in the very first Foster Festival production On A First Name Basis in 2016 create magic you can't help but admire.

The supporting cast is just as good.  Daniel Briere's Gary is full of impetuous innocence of his situation; Erin MacKinnon's Janey is confused about the state of her marriage, made even more so when the bookie Beverley takes a shine to her.  The two of them actually interact as you would expect siblings to react to each other.

Amaka Umeh's Bobbi is cool and smart; perhaps too smart for lover Gary, but maybe that's exactly what he needs to counteract his general goofiness.  And as the more worldly bookie Beverly Woytovich is perhaps not quite as hard nosed as he would like you to believe.  He ends up being the great unifier in the end and not the nasty person everyone expected him to be.  Darren Keay plays the role with a suave manner that makes Janey's attraction to him believable.

Director Jim Mezon, returning after last year's Wrong For Each Other knows the knack of directing a Foster play by letting the dialogue speak for itself rather than forcing the laughs by other means.  He directs with a sure hand and good pacing.

Overall you can't find a better way to spend a couple of hours or so inside during this heat than by warming up to the characters that inhabit Hilda's Yard.  It runs until July 26th in the recital hall at the FirstOntario PAC and should be on your must-see list this summer.

For tickets, call the box office at 905-688-0722 or toll free at 1-855-515-0722, or online at

Have a great weekend!

July 21st, 2019.

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