Written by Norm Foster
Directed by Robert More
Performed by Norm Foster, Heather Hodgson, Derek Ritschel
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
May 19 to June 6, 2009
Live! On Stage!
Review by Mary Alderson
You can’t find a better actor than Norm Foster to star in a Norm Foster play, and once again, Director Robert More has done that at Victoria Playhouse. Mending Fences opens the new season in Petrolia.
Foster continues to be Canada’s most prolific playwright, and his comedies are always popular. While the funny dialogue gives us many laughs in Mending Fences, the second act is a little darker than many of Foster’s stories.
Last year, Foster and co-star Heather Hodgson had lead roles in Foster’s The Long Weekend, and More has brought the successful duo together again in Mending Fences, along with Derek Ritschel. The three of them had the same roles in a production of Mending Fences last summer at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre.
Foster plays Harry, a beef farmer wiped out by mad cow disease. His adult son, Drew, (Derek Ritschel) whom he hasn’t seen in 13 years, has come for a visit, and the two obviously have a very strained relationship. Harry’s girlfriend, Gin, (Heather Hodgson) is a regular houseguest, dropping over from her neighbouring ranch.
The first act is a fine example of Foster’s quick-witted writing. Harry trades sarcastic comments with both Gin and Drew, and the audience enjoys the comedy. Then, there are flashbacks as the story unfolds – we see Harry’s wife leaving, taking a young Drew with her. They we go further back to Harry’s childhood, meeting his father and mother. Foster gives us food for thought.
We learn about suicide, alcoholism, adultery, bad parenting and a broken home – not the usual fare of comedies. Yet, Foster has carefully wrapped the dysfunctional revelations with some funny stuff, moving the audience past the tragedy. Just as you think this is almost too true to be funny, he tosses in a laugh.
Foster is of course, a natural for the part of Harry. His deadpan humour and quick barbs provide the laughs. Hodgson is excellent as Gin, but also flips easily into the flashbacks where she capably handles playing Harry’s ex-wife and his mother. Ritschel is perfect as the troubled Drew both at age 29 and as a child.
Credit goes to Director Robert More for balancing the comedy with the darker side, and still providing an entertaining evening. The set is excellent, a typical prairie farm kitchen. The lighting is well done, differentiating between the present and the flashbacks.
For a great study in human relationships, and some humour along with it, Mending Fences is well worth an evening in Petrolia.
Mending Fences continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 6. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.
Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.