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.