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The Foursome tees off at Lighthouse

Port Dover theatre’s 35th season opens with Norm Foster classic

The Foursome
Photo by J.P. Antonacci, Norfolk News
Old friends reunite on the golf course in The Foursome by Canadian playwright Norm Foster.

Norfolk News
By J.P. Antonacci

When four old friends reunite on the golf course, the results can be as heartfelt as they are hilarious. That’s the secret to The Foursome, says director Robert More, who is bringing the Norm Foster play to Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre this week.

“It is actually a hilarious play, but it’s not about golf. It’s about the four guys – their hopes and dreams and disappointments,” More said. “There are several very moving moments in this – quite powerful, actually.”

The action follows the golf game, with 18 scenes covering the holes, and a 19th scene tying the story together as the game ends. Images from the fairways at the Norfolk Golf and Country Club will be projected onto a screen as the characters play on.

The format creates challenges for the actors, who must remember not only the emotional-filled monologues but the sporting banter at each hole, More said.

“This play is an A-game challenge to get it right,” he said.

More makes his return to Port Dover theatre after serving as LFT’s artistic director from 1994 to 2003, when he wrote Summer Garden about the famed Port Dover dance hall.

“It’s really one of the major theatrical homes for me. I have deep roots here, so of course I wanted to come back,” said the director, who currently leads Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver.

More staged The Foursome while at LFT, but said he created the current show from a clean slate.

“It has a new cast, so it has different rhythms, a different set, a different look,” he said. “I had to do it all over again – it was great.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is More’s awareness of the play’s emotional undercurrent. “When I do any play, but especially Norm Foster, you must not just be hitting punch lines. There are punch lines, but you’ve got to do the heart and the people, and the comedy will take care of itself.”

Current artistic director Derek Ritschel – who is also acting in The Foursome after a five-year absence from the stage – invited four former artistic directors back to each direct a show during the theatre’s 35th anniversary season.

“When I pitched the reunion idea to my predecessors, they were all excited,” Ritschel said. “To me, their eagerness to return to Lighthouse says a lot about how much this theatre still means to them.”

More says he can’t walk down the street in Port Dover without falling into a conversation or 10 with old friends. That’s the kind of connection Ritchsel was hoping for when he thought to host the former artistic directors this year.

“Giving (patrons) a chance to reconnect with some important figures in the theatre’s history is a great way to celebrate Lighthouse’s 35th season,” he said.

The Foursome opens May 22 and runs until June 11. To order tickets, call 519-583-2221 or visit

Taking a Test Drive

New Lighthouse play a comedic spin through history

Photo by J.P. Antonacci, Norfolk News
Stephen Sparks and Carolyn Hall rehearse a scene from Test Drive, a comedy by Dave Carley.

Norfolk News
By J.P. Antonacci

Put Forrest Gump behind the wheel of a classic car, and you get Earl Hughes.

“We see all the things that happen to him from 1954 to 2004. The interesting thing about it is he sees everything through the eyes of a car,” said director Simon Johnston of Hughes, the hero of Test Drive, a comedy by Dave Carley opening this week at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre.

The play presents 50 years of history as seen from the front seat of the automobiles Hughes, a car salesman from Don Mills, drives around the country. He meets people, falls in love, raises a family and confronts old age as world events unfold around him.

“Every car has a specific meaning, and he relates to the world through the cars,” Johnston said.

“So when he sees a beautiful woman, he describes her like the first time he saw a Studebaker. For him, it’s a big compliment.”

Hughes’ passion for cars takes him on the road to bear witness to Woodstock, the Cold War and the internet age, with hit songs from each era blaring from his car radio and photographs of cars and historical events beamed onto a screen set up on stage.

“The test drive is a metaphor for him testing his life, and various challenges we all relate to,” Johnston said.

“Marriage, his in-laws,his son who becomes a hippie – which he doesn’t like – and his daughter marrying somebody who’s a little bit weird. All of those benchmarks run parallel to the new cars.”

That universality makes this a play for all audiences, but car enthusiasts will appreciate the nostalgic trip to the garages of their youth.

“A lot of our audience will probably remember the cars (from) the first time round,” said Johnston, who admitted a preference for classic British cars over the American autos Hughes favours.

Port Dover crowd favourite Stephen Sparks plays Hughes, surrounded by some 14 supporting characters portrayed by just two actors, Carolyn Hall and Abraham Asto.

“They do this through the magic of theatre – simply by changing a hat, or changing glasses, or physicality,” Johnston said. “In some scenes, they play two people at the same time. It’s very challenging.”

Johnston, Lighthouse’s artistic director from 1987 to 1994, was invited by current lead hand Derek Ritschel to direct the comedy by Carley, a Peterborough-born playwright Johnston has known for decades.

The director hadn’t been to Dover in many years, and said he is enjoying being back on the Lighthouse stage.

“I love the space. There’s so much history here,” he said. “It’s 100 years old, the theatre itself. It still has a tin ceiling and a lot of the original fixtures.”

Johnston would love to see audiences fill the historic theatre to take in a play he said has a broad appeal.

“It’s a comedy, but it has its moments of pathos,” he said.

“We watch a man’s life, and there are peaks and valleys. It’ll be extremely entertaining.”

Test Drive opens June 18 and runs until July 5. For tickets, call the box office at 519-583-1031 or visit

Winner collects $7,529 in Lighthouse 50-50 draw prize

Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s season-long 50/50 draw winner was Anne Bryan of Hamilton. She was presented with a cheque for $7,529 on Oct. 2.

Administrative Director Helen Wagenaar and Artistic Director Derek Ritschel both congratulated the winner and, of course, thanked her for attending the performance ‘Knickers’. She assured them that she and her group would be back next Lighthouse Festival Theatre season.

With her cheque in hand Anne Bryan declared with a broad smile, “it’s worth the drive to Port Dover!”

There is an on-line meeting place called ‘Meet Up’ that Anne Bryan keeps in touch with, that way a group is formed to attend various events, including Lighthouse Festival Theatre performances during the summer and on another occasion Ms Bryan enjoyed a lake cruise on the Kayloe at Port Dover.

Lighthouse Theatre opens season with tribute to country legend Dolly Parton

Lighthouse Festival Theatre kicks off its 2012 season by paying tribute to a legend when Rhinestone Cowgirl: a Tribute to Dolly Parton opens May 22. The beginning of the new season also marks singer/actress Leisa Way’s return to Port Dover, after last appearing at LFT in the 2007 hit comedy The Long Weekend.

Way is working hard preparing to open the season. She not only stars in the concert, she also researched and wrote the dialogue in between songs, assembled and rehearsed the band, and looks after all the bookings and accommodations.

“It’s a one-person operation, and a lot of work,” Way explained, “but I enjoy performing and sharing my love of Dolly Parton’s music with audiences, so it’s all a very rewarding experience.”

In developing the show, Way made sure to recreate the experience of attending one of Parton’s concerts as closely as possible. “I researched everything I could. Every bit of dialogue I speak in the show came out of Dolly’s mouth at some point. She’s so smart and funny; she’s the queen of one-liners.”

Even Way’s costumes were made by Dolly’s own costumer, Joyce Critchlow, who lives in Toronto.

Despite this in-depth attention to detail, Way insists she’s not trying to be Parton. “I’m a fan first and foremost, and that fandom definitely comes through during the concert. “I didn’t want to make this a caricature of Dolly; that’s been done. She’s had plenty of jokes told at her expense, to the point where she eventually started making them on her own to take the sting away. This is a very respectful, loving tribute that focuses on her amazing performances and song writing genius.”

Way states that Parton’s writing ability is often overlooked. “She’s had 25 number one hits in genres ranging from country to disco, and she did it over five decades. She’s also the only artist to hit number one with the same song three times (I Will Always Love You). That’s unprecedented, and will probably never be equalled. She now has a whole new generation of fans because of her role on Hannah Montana.”

Way demonstrates a clear affection for Port Dover while discussing her imminent return. She cites meeting with friends at the Erie Beach, visiting the Hobo Store, and shopping at the GT Boutique among her favorite Port Dover activities.

Frequent Lighthouse Theatre patrons will also recognize another familiar face in Way’s band. Aaron Solomon, who most recently played Johnny Cash in the 2010 production of Johnny and June, joins Way on-stage and plays an impressive list of stringed instruments including fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, and dobro. The band is rounded out by pianist Bruce Ley, who once played for Dolly Parton herself when she appeared on the Tommy Hunter Show; Sylvia Tyson bass player Randall Kempf; Holly Cole guitarist Kim Ratcliffe; and drummer Dave Wilson, who also writes the short musical numbers that welcome guests on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“I’ve been with this group of guys for six years, and they’re incredible. We’ve reached an almost telepathic stage relationship,” Way explained. “Even people who aren’t as familiar with Dolly’s career – maybe they got dragged to the show by their husbands or wives – have come up to me after shows and said how much they enjoyed the show simply because the music is so good.”

“They could probably do the show without me,” she added. “But let’s not tell them that.”

Rhinestone Cowgirl: a Tribute to Dolly Parton is on-stage at Lighthouse Festival Theatre from May 22-June 16. Tickets are available online at or by phoning the box office at (519) 583-0881.