Review: It’s all about the laughter with Norm Foster’s ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home’ (Hamilton Spectator)

This late-life look at love and companionship is funny, well-acted and smartly directed.

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Saturday, June 1, 2024

You won’t find a funnier playwright than Norm Foster. He’s written close to 80 comedies over a long and prolific career. And he’s still on his mark as far as laughter goes with “Doris and Ivy in the Home,” a late-life look at love and companionship.

Doris is a retired prison guard from a tough correctional facility who has lived in a mostly imperfect marriage. Ivy, soon to become her good friend, is a shamed skier who 54 years later is still trying to live down a disastrous finish in the big downhill competition in her native Austria.

Brigitte Robinson and Melanie Janzen in Lighthouse Festival’s production of Norm Foster’s “Doris and Ivy in the Home.” Don Kearney-Bourque Lighthouse Festival photo.

They meet in a classy retirement home where the residents are treated to sushi nights and art classes.

Ivy is rather sweet, but has a bit of chip on her shoulder. Doris is abrasive and nosy and has absolutely no social filter.

They stand on the back patio of the Paradise Village Retirement Home, an unfortunate nomenclature for a home where folks are closer to the end than they are to the beginning.

They spy on residents out in the garden having ferocious coitus in the cucumber patch. They trade stories, and sometimes insults, about life in general and Doris, ever a meddler, soon makes it her prerogative to fix up Ivy with Arthur, the home’s handsome and available nice guy.

Most of Foster’s play is concerned with how this is going to happen, since Ivy is just not attracted to handsome Arthur in “that way.” After all, she’s been burned three times by unholy marriages.

Oh, and did I mention, poor Arthur, though looking robust and healthy, has only two years, or is it months, to live?

For all this, “Doris and Ivy in the Home” is a very funny play. It perks along at a crack pace in Jane Spence’s nicely staged production.

It’s played on an attractive set from William Chesney, complete with light-up gazebo and comfy furniture and the cast is clad in costumes by Alex Amini that suit their personalities and look lived in.

If you go to see this laugh-fest be ready to laugh right out loud. It’s that kind of play.

Troubles don’t actually start to creep into the narrative until the second act, when the play detours a bit too much from reality trying to foist a happy ending on the characters and on us.

Foster is in fine fettle with the comedy but unlike his better plays like “Halfway There” and “Jonas and Barry in the Home,” he’s so much in laughter mode he veers toward comic laugh lines at the expense of truth.

Now, what do the actors at Port Dover make of Foster’s play? Well, actually quite a bit.

Director Spence has assembled a first-class cast that lob home the comedy and laugh off the weaker aspects of Foster’s story.

The best performance comes from Brigitte Robinson’s, nicely balanced Ivy. She gets her laughs without working too hard. In truth, she has the best written role in Foster’s play.

There is something vulnerable and sweet about this Ivy, so beneath the chit-chat and the need to time a comic line, Robinson creates a believable world of a woman who has made the best of bad luck and choices. Any production of Foster’s play requires someone like Robinson to provide a necessary balance.

Melanie Janzen is a tremendous comedienne. She has warmth and plenty of zing. She gets her laughs and then some.

Her Doris, however, has a tad too many facial tics and kinetic wriggles and jiggles for my liking. Yes, it’s hilarious, but she doesn’t let Doris settle down enough to let us see as much of her undercurrent of vulnerability as necessary. She does however suggest brilliantly a woman who is always “on” because she doesn’t know who she is and what she wants.

Ian Deakin, a fine actor, has the task here of trying to flesh out a mostly underwritten role. We don’t learn quite enough about this Arthur so Deakin is saddled with being a plot function, rather than a real person.

After all this, you might be wondering whether I liked “Doris and Ivy in the Home?”

Well, yes I did. It’s funny, well-acted and smartly directed. What it isn’t is a play that finds its feet in its final act to provide a serious enough counterpoint to the laugh machine that has been driving it for two hours.

For folks who just want to have fun, I’d say you’ll find it with Doris, Ivy and Arthur. Go laugh yourself silly.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator, as well as a variety of international publications, for more than 40 years.

Doris and Ivy in the Home

Who Lighthouse Festival Theatre

Where Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main St. Port Dover. Roselawn Theatre Port Colborne. 296 Fielden Ave. Port Colborne

When At Port Dover until June 8. At Port Colborne June 12-23. Evenings at 8 most days with matinees at 2 p.m. some days. Call the box office to check on performance details.

Tickets Port Dover $51, at Port Colborne $45. Students and equity members reduced to $18 at both theatres. For either theatre, call 1-888-779-7703 to purchase.