Tag: Gary Smith

Review: ‘Mary’s Wedding’ in Port Dover elevates the summer theatre season (Hamilton Spectator)

Evelyn Wiebe & Daniel Reale in Lighthouse Festival’s 2024 production of Mary’s Wedding.

Theatre that asks you to believe in dreams fills the stage with wonder at The Lighthouse, writes Gary Smith.

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Saturday, July 6, 2024

If you only see one play this summer, for goodness sake make it Lighthouse Theatre’s ravishing production of Mary’s Wedding.

The Lighthouse in Port Dover is primarily known for its relentless comedies that are mostly laugh-out-loud funny.

Yet, every so often, one of these whiz-bang laugh machines combines laughter with serious thought. Norm Foster’s Halfway There and the heartwarming gay comedy Bed and Breakfast from last season come instantly to mind for the way they do that.

But this year there is something more. When you least expected it, something special has come along.

Daniel Reale and Evelyn Wiebe in Lighthouse Festival’s production of Mary’s Wedding. It’s a richly written, poetic drama that will make you sit bolt upright in your seat, Gary Smith writes. Photo Credit: Don Kearney-Bourque, Lighthouse Festival

Mary’s Wedding, a tender, heartbreaking drama by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte, has just opened to elevate the theatre season.

It’s a richly written, poetic drama that will make you sit bolt upright in your seat. You’ll care for its characters, Mary and Charles, strangers who meet by serendipity one stormy night in a weathered old barn. As the thunder growls outside sheltering walls, and blinding lightning pierces the gloomy darkness, these ingratiating souls long for their lives to intersect in a way that might suggest a welcoming, happy ever after moment.

Evelyn Wiebe & Daniel Reale in Lighthouse Festival’s 2024 production of Mary’s Wedding.

So, why do we sit in our seats for the play’s bracing two acts knowing this is not likely to happen?

Call it intuition.

We soon realize playwright Massicotte is refusing to make the world a welcoming place for such willing young lovers. We follow his wayward path as he allows fate to intervene. The horror of the trenches and the bayonet attacks of the First World War become a cruel, intrusive part of the story.

Massicotte takes us down some frightening paths precisely because he is a playwright who, in the end, writes truth, not fantasy.

Mary’s Wedding is not a linear play where one moment necessarily leads logically to the next. There is poetry at work here. It’s not for nothing that Mary quotes from The Lady of Shalott and Charles relates the rougher, masculine world of Rudyard Kipling’s rallying cries for empire and false heroics.

Much of Massicotte’s play is filled with the exotic world of the great poets. Nothing is truly what it seems. And this playwright has us wandering the labyrinth of the human imagination, lost and fearful as we seek the elusive exit from some frightening maze.

This is theatre that is gripping and passionate. You can’t let your mind wander for an instant. Better pay attention. This one’s filled with the grace notes of a remarkable imagination.

Now, none of this would matter a whiff, if Mary’s Wedding were given anything less than a superlative production. It’s not the sort of play to survive half measures.

Fortunately, it has at its helm in Port Dover a director deeply invested in the play’s rich poetic heartbeat.

Derek Ritschel, who also happens to be the artistic director of the Lighthouse Festival Theatre, has taken a breathtaking risk in scheduling such an elegant and thoughtful play for inclusion in a summer theatre season normally predicated on more pedestrian, lightweight fare.

But it goes deeper than that.

Ritschel has directed this anti-war, love story brooding with fantasy and surreal thought, and given the play’s sometimes dark and demonic themes, a sweet coating of romantic truth. It’s something that resonates in the imagination long after you’ve left the theatre.

Ritschel has wisely liberated the poetic fantasy of this riveting work. More importantly perhaps, he has cannily unleashed from his talented young actors, Daniel Reale and Evelyn Wiebe, performances that reverberate with the wondrous ring of truth.

These are star turns that would not be out of place on a Broadway or West End London stage. Yes, dear friends, they are just that good.

Reale and Wiebe unlock in Massicotte’s exquisite drama such thrilling moments of tenderness, fear and passionate longing that we cling to faint hopes their lives will have some glorious happy ending.

Here is where Massicotte exercises reality. By the time the last lingering shadows of Wendy Lundgren’s painterly lighting have vanished from William Chesney’s stunning, battered barn of a setting, and we have surrendered completely to the fantasy landscape that is the surreal world of Mary’s Wedding, we are wed to hopes of happiness, but will they happen?

Go see Mary’s Wedding.

Go dream the dream. It is after all a play about dreams, desires and passionate longings. This one asks you to travel through time and space and totally suspend disbelief. It’s a remarkable journey to the outer limits of the imagination.

Plays like this don’t come along all that often. And when they are directed and acted with a kind of powerful charisma that leaps right off the stage, well, you need to be there to catch them.

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.

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.

It’s been a fabulous year in theatre

Plenty of great things happened on stages in 2023

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Theatre has survived the crunch of COVID-19 and a lingering reluctance by some theatregoers to return to their seats.

No matter, professional theatre companies worked hard in 2023 to woo audiences with entertaining and sometimes riveting productions. Gradually, audiences returned in greater numbers. Let’s hope this trend continues.

After seeing more than 150 shows, here in no particular order are the 12 best professional performances I saw in 2023.

”The Amen Corner.” James Baldwin’s brilliant play about religion, racism and a sometimes disturbing connection between the two made for a stunning production at the Shaw Festival, directed by Kimberley Rampersad. I saw this show in New York when it was first produced on Broadway in 1964 and what Rampersad did with it illuminated the sadness, fear and the ultimate triumph of rising above ignorance. And the gospel music she interpolated into the text at Shaw was a clever addition.

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Hamilton-born playwright Erin Shields added an insightful prologue and some welcome contemporary thinking to this Chris Abraham’s Stratford Festival production. So fine were Shields’ additions to the text you’d never know they weren’t written by Shakespeare himself.

In New York and Toronto I hated the musical “Next to Normal.” It was aggressive, angry and turgid. Then Michael Longhurst directed it at London’s Donmar Warehouse with Hamilton-born theatre star Caissie Levy in the central role. Amazing what a canny director and an actress-singer of extraordinary talents can do to make a show shimmer with new life.

“Boy Falls from the Sky.” It was smart of Theatre Aquarius to bring this intimate show to Hamilton. Jake Epstein’s recollections of a sometimes troubled theatre career came alive under Robert McQueen’s insightful staging and dramaturgy.

Stephen Sondheim was the greatest theatre composer-lyricist of our time. Trenchant, rueful and oh so witty, he made you laugh and cry. The London tribute show to his genius, starring Lea Salonga, Bernadette Peters and Janie Dee, along with vintage British theatre stars Bonnie Langford and Joanna Riding, was sensational. And at the end when they projected Sondheim’s craggy face on a giant screen there wasn’t a dry eye in the Gielgud Theatre.

“Pollyanna The Musical” at Theatre Aquarius brought laughter and love to Hamilton at Christmastime. Local playwright and lyricist Steven Gallagher and composer Linda Barnett fashioned a score reminiscent of Broadway during its Golden Age. This was a great big Christmas present of a show.

“Bed and Breakfast” at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre delivered touching contemporary theatre. Mark Crawford’s comedy about two gay guys opening a bed and breakfast in a bigoted Ontario town was sensitively acted by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski and Warren Macauley. It was moving, funny and inclusive. And bah humbug to the bigots who walked out.

“La Dame Aux Camelias.” This stunning ballet by Baden, Ontario choreographer Peter Quanz for Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens was superb. It had lovely lyrical choreography, riveting storytelling and elegant yet simple sets and costumes. Quanz is a gem and should be working in Canada, not some foreign country. What’s that about a prophet without honour in his own country?

Dundas actor, singer, composer and lyricist Jay Turvey directed a seductive production of “Gypsy” at the Shaw Festival. Too bad his star Kate Hennig softened her Mama Rose, unlike Angela Lansbury and Ethel Merman, who burned a patch off the stage by delineating her demons and ruthless, selfish determination.

“To Kill A Mockingbird.” Though the Mirvish Series in Toronto has sadly sold out to loud and overhyped musicals, their Off-Mirvish Series offered a moving production of Aaron Sorkin’s new play based on Harper Lee’s beloved novel. Richard Thomas was touching as Atticus Finch and the show had a quality Broadway feel to it in every way. More of this please Mr. Mirvish.

Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” has finally come into its own. In New York at the Hudson Theatre this is the hit of the New York Season. And in the cast, right alongside Daniel Radcliffe, is local actor Evan Alexander Smith, currently understudying one of the show’s lead roles. Here’s another actor from the Hamilton area who has taken a bite out of The Big Apple.

Close to home Stephen Near’s beguiling play “Whale Fall” played a short run at the HCA theatre. This touching drama about a daughter, climate change and the way the world can spin suddenly out of control featured wonderful performances from Stephanie Hope Lawlor and Ray Louter. It was also beautifully directed by Aaron Joel Craig. Talk about local theatre folks having professional polish.

Whatever 2024 happens to bring our way theatrically, let’s hope more seats will be filled at theatres everywhere and daring risk-taking shows will come our way.

A very Happy New Year to you dear readers — and may your theatregoing in the year ahead fill your hearts with laughter, love and the joy of live performance.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for 40 years as well as for a variety of international publications. gsmith1@cogeco.ca.

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is a slam-bang panto for the whole darn family

Go up the beanstalk for a musical comedy with a hilarious edge

Allan Cooke and Katie Edwards in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.”

Ross Petty eat your heart out. You may have abdicated your Christmas panto throne for the comfort of retirement, but your crown has passed to the head of Derek Ritschel, head honcho for the Lighthouse Festival.

His two theatres, the Lighthouse Festival in Dover and the Roselawn in Port Colborne, are serving up a terrific fractured fairy tale of a show in “Jack and the Beanstalk” that will have adults, as well as the kids, rolling in the aisles.

If you don’t know what pantomime (panto) is, get ready to find out. It’s a full-blown musical comedy with bawdy jokes, lots of songs, men playing women, and women playing men and always in outrageous British pantomime tradition.

Musical director Stephen Ingram sings in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.”

Playwright Ken MacDougall and director Jonathan Ellul have put together a great production that will have you bopping in your seat and laughing until your sides ache.

MacDougall has peppered the thing with lots of local references and corny gags. His script allows for lots of audience participation, including a happy Christmas singalong.

There’s lots of booing the villain, a handsome but slimy corporate guy, the CEO of a big brutal company that wants to plow up Ontario farmland and build more of those expensive condominiums.

Ever heard of this?

He’s played by the villainous Cyrus Lane and this triple-threat actor, singer, dancer, happily deserves every audience boo he gets.

Eliza-Jane Scott, left, Sal Figliomeni and Stephen Ingram in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto

Meantime Princess Buttercup, played by fantastic and vocally strong Katie Edwards, and her father, an addle-pated, muddled-up rubber-faced King (a deliberately over-the-top Allan Cooke), are trying to keep their troubled kingdom together.

Eliza-Jane Scott plays a sly little dude of a Jack, the lad who sells the family cow for a sack of beans and has eyes for Princess Buttercup. This Jack is not the greatest intellect on this fairy tale planet, but he’s a nice sort of kid, decked out in baseball cap and overalls.

Of course, there’s a pantomime Dame, the guy dressed in spectacular, slightly revealing frocks, who’s both raunchy and funny and has a great pair of gams. This is Sal Figliomeni, who sings the heart out of “When You’re Good to Mama” from the musical “Chicago,” as well as anything else he gets his high-powered lungs on.

In fact, this Dame belts out all his numbers to the rafters, and plays his laugh-lines like some Broadway baby on speed.

Sal Figliomeni and Eliza-Jane Scott in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.”

It’s worth the price of admission just to see what getup he’s going to turn up in next. My favourite, by the way, was a little Christmas tree number, with balls and poinsettias, in all the right places.

There’s a Pride-inspired fairy with a wand, (a sprightly Lori Nancy Kalamanski). She says to call her MC, and dashes in and out to facilitate the action and takes part in some audience interaction.

In and out of the action too, and a busy wizard on the keyboard, is musical director Stephen Ingram, who has a terrific singing voice and should have been used to more advantage throughout this entertaining show.

William Chesney’s sets are serviceable, even if the actors have to squeeze through some tricky entrance spaces. And Chris Malkowski’s lighting casts a fairy tale glow over everything.

Costume designer Alex Amini has done a great job dressing the characters in fairy tale chic, giving the whole show a classy look.

There’s not quite enough dancing in the show, but choreographer Kiri-Lyn Muir has made a neat number for the villainous CEO and two gingerbread men.

Stephen Ingram, left, and Sal Figliomeni in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.” It’s a full-blown musical comedy with bawdy jokes, lots of songs, men playing women and women playing men and always in outrageous British pantomime tradition, Gary Smith writes.

What does it have to do with anything? I don’t know, but hey, this is a panto, so just about anything goes.

If you’ve seen a British panto before you won’t be disappointed with this full-throttle incarnation.

If you’ve never been to one of these outrageous off-the-wall musical shows before, get ready to have a whale of a time.

It’s all about letting go, having fun and playing along with the gang. You will likely unleash your inner child. And what’s wrong with that?

Magic Beans and Katie Edwards are set loose in Port Dover theatre’s ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’

Rehearsing is a blast and she has never laughed so much in all her life, Edwards tells Gary Smith.

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Katie Edwards grew up watching her mom and dad act on local theatre stages.

“I have so many memories of watching them rehearse when I was quite young. I watched them in awe, feeling so proud to be related to them.”

Along the way, she just knew she would have to find her own place on a theatre stage one day.

“After watching my parents perform, it meant so much for me to follow in their footsteps. My parents’ passion for theatre greatly impacted my need to pursue a professional career in the arts.

“I had been a very busy kid. My parents enrolled me in children’s programs at Theatre Aquarius and at Student Theatre in Burlington. These were great, but my real joy was actually being on stage. My first show was in Village Theatre Waterdown in1997. It was called ‘Clowns.’ I was nine years old.

“By the time I got to high school, the stage was one of the few places I felt calm and confident.”

For Edwards, performing is a gateway to freedom.

“It gives me a creative outlet and allows me to escape my own reality and play characters that I admire. I love playing strong, courageous, intelligent characters and I hope they empower young girls in the audience, as much as they have empowered me.”

Allan Cooke as The King & Katie Edwards as The Princess rehearsing a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto! at Lighthouse Festival’s Rehearsal Hall in Port Dover.

Edwards is getting ready to put on another princess dress and help Jack fight the giant in Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre production of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

“It’s a pantomime and some people aren’t quite familiar with what that means. It’s not a silent mime show. It’s a musical comedy that includes singing and dancing, topical jokes and stock characters. It’s typically based on a well-known fairytale. Pantos are great fun because they provide dual entertainment for children and adults, by incorporating double entendres and adult humour into a children’s story. It’s also a form of participation theatre. The audience is encouraged to boo and heckle the villain, shout out to the performers, and sing along with some of the songs. I can’t wait to get in front of an audience with this show because they are such a big part of what happens.”

Edwards says rehearsing is a blast and she has never laughed so much in all her life.

“Working in the theatre is a challenge,” Edwards says. “It’s challenging to earn enough from theatre work alone. Some years all my money came from theatre contracts but I wasn’t able to save for my future. It took me a while but I realized I have many different passions and I didn’t have to choose just one of them. I went back to school 10 years ago to study sociology and women’s studies at York University. Since then, I have worked as a choreographer, director, drama and mindfulness teacher, theatre workshop facilitator and fundraiser. I’ve even written a few shows. Right after graduation I was asked to co-write the university’s orientation play on consent, which was a wonderful way for me to combine my education in women’s studies and theatre.”

Edwards has starred in “Anne” at Theatre Orangeville, playing Anne of Green Gables. She has played Grace in Rum Runners at Port Dover and was in Ross Petty’s Toronto pantomime “The Wizard of Oz.”

Sal Figliomeni at Jack’s Mum (background), Lori Nancy Kalamanski as The Fairy, and Katie Edwards as The Princess, at the Lighthouse Festival Rehearsal Hall in Port Dover working on a scene for Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto! coming to the stage on November 29th to December 17th in Port Dover and Port Colborne.

“That one was my intro to panto,” Edwards says. “They are probably my favourite type of show to perform in.”

Edwards is philosophical about life and the arts world she inhabits.

“I took a break from acting for several years to gain experience in other fields. I’ve stayed connected to theatre by teaching drama and mindfulness classes at Forma Theater in Toronto. When COVID-19 hit, I felt very fortunate to have a stable job, as the pandemic was particularly challenging for actors.”

“Two years ago, my partner and I moved to Hamilton and we had our beautiful son Jamie. I love being a mom more than anything, but it does make it challenging. Almost every gig I’ve landed has been outside the city I’ve lived in. Of course, right now I’m living in Port Dover and I can only see my two-year-old on weekends. But, from the moment I was asked to be involved in this show I had to say yes. I just couldn’t turn it down. And I am so excited for my son to see the show and to have him watch me up there on the stage the way I used to watch my mom and dad when I was little.”

Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto

Where Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main St., Port Dover

When Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 1-9 at 7:30 p.m., matinees Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 2-3 and 5, 7, 8, 9. at 2 p.m.

Tickets From $34 adults. Children and students under 18 from $30. Call 1-888-779-7703 or lighthousetheatre.com

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for 40 years as well as for a variety of international publications. gsmith1@cogeco.ca.

Show Review: The Real Sherlock Holmes is an elegant first-rate production that will make you laugh

Allan Cooke, Jeff Dingle and David Rosser in The Real Sherlock Holmes | Director: David Nairn, Set: William Chesney, Lighting: Wendy Lundgren, Costumes: Claudine Parker,

This show review by Gary Smith was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on August 27th, 2022.

So, just who is “The Real Sherlock Holmes”?

Fans of the legendary fast-talking sleuth, know he sprang from the fertile imagination of feisty Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Or did he?

Did the deerstalker detective have a different provenance? Did someone influence Conan Doyle’s penning of all those dark-hearted Sherlock mysteries? Did “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “Sherlock’s Last Case” really spring from Conan Doyle’s fertile brain without assistance?

If you don’t know you need to go to the Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover. That’s where lean and lanky actor Jeff Dingle spills the beans, as he trots across the Dover stage in search of adventure and romance.

Dingle, a terrific Conan Doyle, has exactly the right sense of style and pace to make this spirited Peter Colley comedy work.

He knows the perfect way to send up the drama, give the comedy a sly twist and create comic moments of perfect silliness. Dingle is aided and abetted by a smooth and smug Professor Bell from actor David Rosser.

Together this agreeable partnership gives this lunatic adventure story a sense of tremendous fun and wide-eyed innocence.

Add to the mix, wonderful Hamilton actress Susan JohnstonCollins who gives haughty and imperious Lady Louisa a perfect twist of sour lemon. JohnstonCollins is capable of controlling a scene when she’s simply standing around, artfully dabbing her nose with her always handy lace hankie. Or even better, lifting those incredibly arched eyebrows in mortal disdain.

These three actors, light up the Dover stage, dominating Colley’s play with intentionally elevated acting that makes their performances linger in the imagination long after the baddies are carted off to jail and Conan Doyle, not yet a Sir, kisses sweet little Jenny, (Blythe Hanes) who gives his crank an American twist. 

A terrific set from William Chesney is evocative and imaginative

with its several levels and hidden pop-out surprises, it is a perfect landscape for the play’s nefarious goings-on.

Then too, Claudine Parker’s lived-in costumes have just the right touch of cheesiness about them to suggest old-time melodrama.

Add Wendy Lundgren’s mood-drenched lighting and you have a sense of mystery.

Mark McGrinder and Allan Cooke, playing an assortment of outrageous characters, from a fiendish bagpipe player to a One-Eyed Old Salt of the Sea, tend to veer somewhere over the top, but my goodness they do make you laugh.

To read the full review please click this link to visit The Hamilton Spectator website

Show Review: ‘Halfway There’ is Norm Foster at his most beguiling

This show review by Gary Smith was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on July 8th.

Want to laugh until your sides ache? Want to cry until your heart breaks?

Want to see Canada’s most prolific playwright at the very top of his game? Want to see a cast committed to theatre as a place of moving and insightful entertainment?

OK, so enough with the questions.

Go grab your favourite device and book seats for “Halfway There.” This wonderful Norm Foster comedy, with its sly comic invention and generous dollop of truth, is one of the best things I’ve seen all year. That includes Broadway, London’s West End and the Stratford Festival.

It’s in Port Dover at The Lighthouse Festival Theatre, the home of Canadian theatre comedies. But oh my, it’s so much more than you might think.

Some years back Foster wrote a play about male bonding called “The Foursome.” Well, now he’s done something even more winning.

With “Halfway There,” he’s written a rueful, first-rate love story about women. I don’t think anyone’s done this sort of thing better.

It’s “Steel Magnolias,” “Morning’s At Seven” and “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” all rolled into one. Except for one thing special. It’s uniquely Foster in every possible way.

Laughs, and believe me there are dozens and dozens of them, punctuate some of the warmest and loving moments I can remember on a stage.

Yet, these whoppers that make you laugh until you can’t take it anymore never encroach on the humanity and the truth of the play. Foster’s characters grow naturally out of a series of crises and challenges that face Rita (the wonderful Susan Henley), Vi (the irrepressible Debra Hale) and Mary Ellen (Melodee Finlay, one time Queen of Port Dover Lighthouse comedies, who is happily back with a vengeance).

These three lovable women are a triumvirate to reckon with. Their performances bristle with a kind of exquisite energy and truth that radiates from the stage like a warm hug and a great big kiss. These three friends face the losses in their lives with a will to shrug off sorrow and the strength to hold on tight to what makes them strong. They are so real you want to join their group hugs on stage, grab their hands and take them all out for a drink and a fish fry at Dover’s vintage Erie Beach Hotel.

They aren’t the centre of the story here, but they are the steamrolling heart of Foster’s wonderful play. They are what gives it its joy, laughter and tender moments of female bonding, moments that transcend life’s sometimes awkward and painful annoyances.

We are in a little diner in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. That’s the place that is halfway to the North Pole. Now you get the play’s title, right? But that’s only a small part of what it really means. More about that later.

Into this evocative spot — where waitress Janine Babineau, played smartly by Kristen Da Silva, dreams about finding real love and a hold on life — walks handsome Sean Merritt, who’s terrific as a visiting doctor in town for a month or two, working at the local hospital. And isn’t he just about perfect in a quiet, no-nonsense way.

Just maybe, he’s what Janine is looking for, someone to give her life meaning.

To read the full review please click this link to visit The Hamilton Spectator website

Finding love on the side of Sugar Road

This show review by Gary Smith was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on May 24th.

There is a wonderful moment early in the second act of Kristen Da Silva’s comedy “Sugar Road.”

A country and western singer has just sung a sweet song to the woman he knows he loves more than the screaming fans who crowd the edge of his stage.

Suddenly, a string of stars twinkles in the evening sky and a full and luminous moon winks down on the oh so romantic scene. And that’s it, the precise moment when all the hilarious nonsense going on in Da Silva’s seductive comedy gives way to what we suspected all along.

Handsome Jesse Emberly, the sort of guy who writes romantic hurtin’ songs, has fallen for Hannah Taylor, the Sugar Road Amusement Park owner who remains tethered to a tragic love affair that haunts her past.

Not her own past, you understand. It’s the past of her mother, who, like Hannah, fell for a restless cowboy singer, not unlike poetic Jesse and was burned by the sting of regret.

This is the aha moment, the nanosecond when we know for sure, what we’ve suspected all along. Hannah and Jesse ought to belong to one another. And so, here we are rooting for these frightened, star-crossed lovers, who are frightened to find a path of compromise and trust that will allow them to walk together into a touching golden sunset at the end of Da Silva’s delightful comedy.

Certainly, Hannah and Jesse, as imagined by playwright Da Silva are warm and vulnerable human beings. More importantly perhaps, they’re played with sensitivity and charm by Elana Post and Jeffrey Wetsch that radiates across the multihued amusement park setting of designer William Chesney. Each of these actors helps to create an oasis of sanity in a comedy that often explodes quite frenetically, shaking the rafters of The Lighthouse Festival Theatre with laughter.

To read the full review please visit The Hamilton Spectator website