REVIEW: Doris and Ivy in the Home explores aging with heart and humour (Intermission Magazine)

By Janine Marley | Intermission Magazine

Thursday, May 27, 2024

A university dean, a corrections officer, and a disgraced athlete walk into a retirement home…except there isn’t really a punchline. 

Instead, Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home, directed by Jane Spence, is an exploration of friendship, love, and intimacy amidst the inevitable process of aging. Featuring Foster’s signature wit and delivering laugh after laugh, Doris and Ivy in the Home is an uproarious way to kick off Lighthouse Festival’s 45th season. 

Melanie Janzen as Doris & Brigitte Robinson as Iris in Lighthouse Festival’s 2024 summer season production of Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home.

Doris and Ivy in the Home takes three unlikely companions on a journey through illness, relationships, perhaps even some romance, and the occasional snoop on another senior couple who like to, uh, get busy in the garden. Doris is a former corrections officer with a tough exterior, Ivy is a former skier who fled to Canada after a career-ending run, and Arthur used to be a dean, but he prefers to think of himself as a teacher. Arthur only has eyes for Ivy, while Ivy is afraid to fall in love again after three failed marriages. After much meddling and the occasional heart-to-heart, the three end up totally inseparable as they settle into their new lives. 

Foster’s script proves why he’s such a mainstay of Canadian comedy; Doris and Ivy at the Home is one well-placed joke after another, with plenty of callbacks to previous quips as well. A striking element of the writing is that Arthur likes to make up little poems based on his friends’ conversations, essentially little limericks. They’re brilliant and witty, and they punctuate the text perfectly. This flourish takes the creativity of the work to a whole new level while also giving Arthur a unique, delightful quirk.

There’s also a very delicate balance between the light and dark elements of Foster’s play. The world delves into real issues while keeping the overall essence of the play lively and fun. Getting older is a prevalent source of anxiety for most people, and yet Foster doesn’t shy away from talking about the realities of getting cancer or arthritis, or any other number of ailments. However, this play also reinforces how those things don’t have to define us as we get older. Each of the three characters finds something, or someone, new to live for over the course of the play. Whether that’s love, or a grandchild, or finding your independence after a long, loveless marriage, they all find something new about themselves. The ability to change our lives over and over again, no matter what age we are, is part of the beauty of being human, and Doris and Ivy in the Home directly speaks to that humanity.

The cast of Doris and Ivy in the Home is a trio of veteran actors who deliver exceptional performances in this piece. Melanie Janzen gives a bold and animated performance as Doris. Her physicality so fully embodies her character, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Katharine Hepburn as she’d brush back her bangs in her plaid shirt and capris. Playing opposite Janzen is Brigitte Robinson as Ivy, whose poise and elegance are a perfect foil to Doris’ brashness. Robinson gives Ivy a sweet, maternal nature while also showing a deeper, more troubled side to the character. Ian Deakin’s Arthur is the final of these three musketeers. Deakin gives an earnest and heartfelt performance while leaning into his character’s idiosyncrasies. The chemistry and expertise of these three actors makes this production such a joy to watch; they’re so clearly having a good time with one another, and that radiates through their performances. 

William Chesney’s set design for the production is instantly recognizable as a retirement facility: the building’s large automated lobby doors, patio furniture, and gazebo create an ideal ambience for the play. Outdoor planters which change from bright flowers to hearty ferns help denote the passage of time, a choice that’s simple and effective. Alex Amini’s costumes wholly embody the characters; each has their own unique style that fits their personalities to a T. Ivy’s cardigans and flowy shirts, Doris’ colourful plaid shirt, and Arthur’s earth tones let us know immediately who these characters are. 

Doris and Ivy in the Home is a lighthearted story that’ll leave you looking forward to the future — whatever it may bring.

Doris and Ivy in the Home runs in Port Dover until June 8 before moving to Port Colborne from June 12-23. Tickets are available here.