Screwball Comedy: The Foster Festival Returns
BY DAVID DeROCCO
The new entertainment venues built in St. Catharines have certainly changed the face of the downtown core. But it is what’s going on inside those venues that has truly changed the quality level of entertainment now available in the Garden City.
Take The Foster Festival for example. Now set to enter its sophomore season of production, The Foster Festival is the first theatre festival in Canada to celebrate the work of Norm Foster, Canada’s preeminent comic playwright. On average over 150 productions of his 52 plays are staged each year, making him the most produced playwright in Canadian history. And according to festival artistic director Patricia Vanstone, it’s easy to understand the ongoing appeal of Foster’s work.
“The thing I would say to anyone who has never experienced a Norm Foster play is that you could be having the absolute worst day of your life, you may be thinking there’s absolutely nothing that’s going to lift your spirits, and Norm Foster’s comedy will do it for you,” said Vanstone. “You will leave the theatre feeling lighter, feeling more connected to your fellow audience members and just better about life. He’s got that ability. It’s the best kind of way to end your day.”
The 2017 Foster Festival will feature three productions of Foster plays, kicking off with the world premiere of Screwball Comedy (June 21 – July 7), followed by Old Love (July 12 – 28) and wrapping up with Lunenburg (August 2 – 18), another world premier staging. Vanstone says that despite the pressure of staging two world premieres of Foster's work having him on hand during rehearsals has actually helped make it easier for cast and crew.
“We are very lucky to have had a Niagara Community Foundation grant to do some workshop days on both of the premieres,” explained Vanstone. “So I’m feeling that they are in tremendously good shape. And Norm, as it is with any world premiere, the playwright is in the rehearsal hall as much as he’s needed. He’s been making adjustments and fine-tuning the script as we’ve rehearsed it. This company of actors has just embraced the changes and know that whenever he’s adding new pages or changing new pages he’s just making the show that much better or that much easier to perform.”
The first production, Screwball Comedy, is a nod to classic American comedies of the 30s and 40s such as His Girl Friday and The Front Page. Set in 1938, Screwball Comedy centres around Mary Hayes (portrayed by veteran actress Cosette Derome), a budding reporter trying to break into the male dominated newspaper world whose editor forces her into a competition against her male co-worker. Derome, whose acting credits include stage, television and film, is the perfect choice to portray Hayes according to her director.
“Cosette is absolutely wonderful,” said Vanstone, who along with Foster has also filled acting roles during the festival’s first season. “She gave the most wonderful audition. What she brings is she’s got this kind of determination, but she’s also a great vulnerability which is great for the character. She’s just amazing. As one point her editor Bosco Godfrey says of her character, ‘the dame’s got moxy.’ And she does have moxy.”
Vanstone’s own moxy will be put to the test over the next two months as she works with her team to deliver three back to back productions. Thankfully, working with a playwright of Foster’s calibre makes bringing the productions to life much easier and much more enjoyable for audiences according to Vanstone.
“It’s like we say with our tag line, it’s humour with heart. It’s just uproariously funny at times but the characters always have a deep humanity to them. It’s not just stock, sitcom television two-dimensional characters. Norm’s characters have great depth. And Norm’s craft of finding extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary characters is impeccable. There’s no one better in this country and I would say internationally. He’s just such a craftsman for dialogue. The audience is on a constant roller coaster of emotion and I think that’s why audiences all over Canada and internationally enjoy his work so much.”
The Foster Festival is being staged at Cairns Hall inside the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. For tickets and stage times, visit WWW.FOSTERFESTIVAL.COM.