Tag: IntermissionMagazine

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.

Murder at Ackerton Manor pays homage to Agatha Christie with a puzzle box of laughs

By Nathaniel Hanula-James | Intermission Magazine

Thursday, May 16, 2024

“It’s Agatha Christie meets Mel Brooks.”

That’s playwright and director Steven Gallagher’s description of Murder at Ackerton Manor, a comedy homage to the mystery novels of Agatha Christie sure to leave audiences dying of laughter when it opens on June 12 at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover. 

“It’s set in 1950 on a dark and stormy night in a remote mansion,” Gallagher explained in a Zoom interview. “Megan Cinel, our set designer, is so collaborative and such a brilliant young artist. She came up with this beautiful, Gothic English country home set that looks like somebody’s real [house]. The detective is a French-Belgian detective,” which Gallagher says is a reference to Christie’s iconic character Hercule Poirot. 

Murder at Ackerton Manor Maquette – Designed by Megan Cinel

“All the tropes are in there,” Gallagher assured. “There’s a German professor, a dowdy British monarchist, a Southern belle.” Naturally, a murder ensues, and the culprit must be found. 

Step aside, Kenneth Branagh — Ackerton Manor is far from a straightforward adaptation of Christie’s novels. Virtuoso actors Eliza-Jane Scott (Lighthouse’s Jack and the Beanstalk), Andrew Scanlon (Drayton’s Peter Pan: The Panto), and Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski (Tarragon’s The Hooves Belonged to the Deer) play a total of seven roles, with quick changes and ridiculous accents galore.

“[Scanlon,] who plays the murder victim, also plays the detective,” Gallagher said. “He goes back and forth in flashbacks between the two. Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski, who’s six-foot-five, plays the Southern belle. [The costume changes] aren’t just hats. The actors leave and come on in full drag, then they leave and they come back as the next character. It’s a full quick change: costumes, wigs, everything. It’s an extra layer of fun and skill for the actors to really dig into.”

Murder mysteries aren’t a joke to Gallagher: they’re what introduced him to theatre in the first place. “I grew up in Quebec, in a small English town called North Hatley,” Gallagher shared. “It’s sort of like Muskoka in Ontario, in that a lot of wealthy people come from Montreal and go to this small town. It’s one of the only places [in Quebec] that has an English-language summer stock theatre, called the Piggery.” 

Gallagher would go to the Piggery with his mother, and one of the first shows he ever saw there was a murder mystery. Murder at Ackerton Manor is “an homage to my mom,” Gallagher continued, “and those times we spent together watching — probably not great plays — but the shows that really got me into loving, and going to, the theatre.”

When he began work on Ackerton Manor, Gallagher dove back into the genre he adored as a child. 

“I brought back all the [Agatha Christie] books that I had from when I was a kid,” said Gallagher. “I also watched about 50 episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and got my hands on every single murder mystery I could find, even Stephen Sondheim’s [film] The Last of Sheila that he wrote with Anthony Perkins in the ‘70s. I would get all these locked-room mysteries, [a genre in which it seems impossible for a killer to have entered and left a crime scene,] and try to figure out what I could steal. What are the tropes that are all the way through these things?

“My poor partner was like, ‘Are you up again to one o’clock watching another Miss Marple?’,” Gallagher laughed. He shared that his all-time favourite Christie novel is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, about the mysterious death of a wealthy widower. “It sort of turns the genre on its ear,” he teased. 

With its fusion of hijinks and homicide, Ackerton Manor is also a reimagining of not one, but two classic genres. Was blending farce and murder-mystery a difficult task for the playwright-director? 

“[Comedy and mystery] are similar,” explained Gallagher. “Both genres need to be tightly plotted and tightly written.” He added that he’s done some tinkering with the mystery at the heart of Ackerton Manor since the play’s premiere last year at the Bancroft Village Playhouse in Bancroft, Ont. “I’ve changed a couple of things plot-wise,” he said, “just to make sure that the [murderer] isn’t something that everybody guesses; or even if they do guess it, they might not know why until the end. People love that puzzle box.”

Gallagher hopes Murder at Ackerton Manor will encourage audience members to check out Lighthouse Festival’s other offerings, and demystify how much exciting theatre is happening throughout Ontario. 

“People who don’t even think they like theatre might come [see Ackerton] and say, ‘what else would I love to see?’,” he said. “Not just [a farce] but something more challenging too. We’re so used to seeing stuff in Toronto, which is amazing; but there’s a lot of other stuff happening in smaller spaces that people are flocking to.”


Murder at Ackerton Manor runs from June 12 to 29 at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover, and July 3 to 14 at the Roselawn Theatre in Port Colborne. You can purchase tickets here.

‘Just bring your joy’: Inside Lighthouse Theatre’s new all-ages holiday pantomime

By Nathaniel Hanula-James | Intermission Magazine

Friday, November 24, 2023

“There are no mimes in pantomime.

So said Derek Ritschel, artistic director of Lighthouse Festival, in an interview with Intermission. Next week, the company opens Jack and the Beanstalk, a production Ritschel hopes will inaugurate a new tradition in the Port Dover and Port Colborne communities that Lighthouse serves: an annual holiday pantomime.

Although the pantomime — or “panto,” for short — is a thriving tradition with a long history, especially in the UK, it’s relatively little-known in Canada. According to Ritschel and Jack and the Beanstalk’s director Jonathan Ellul, the confusion of mime with pantomime is a common misconception. “I would say that 85 per cent of our audience has no idea what a panto is,” said Ritschel. 

But if a panto isn’t the Marcel Marceau-show, what the heck is it? 

“It’s as though the Muppets were going to do their version of Jack and the Beanstalk, but we got hold of the script,” said Ellul. “In terms of the humour, I always think panto must have been the precursor for all those Bugs Bunny cartoons. It’s a heightened telling of a familiar story, and it’s going to go every which way.” 

In other words, a pantomime takes a well-known fairy tale, throws it in a blender, and adds a healthy dose of zany hijinks. A traditional pantomime features a “pants role,” or a young male hero played by a woman, as well as a “pantomime dame” in drag. (Though the latter role is “more Miss Piggy than RuPaul,” said Ellul.) 

Panto hallmarks also include a good fairy, an over-the-top villain, original songs, a slapstick chase scene, contemporary references to the local community, and plenty of audience participation. (A classic example: yelling “THERE’S A MONSTER BEHIND YOU!” at a dim-witted character who just won’t take the audience’s advice.) Theatregoers can expect all this and more from Lighthouse Festival’s Jack and the Beanstalk.

If the experience sounds overwhelming, fear not. The level of panto knowledge required of a first-time audience member is none whatsoever. “We’re going to be setting up those things within the show,” Ellul assured me. “The audience member who’s never seen [a panto] will be able to fully partake.” 

There’s no question that Jack in the Beanstalk’s audiences will be in good hands: Ellul and Ritschel have assembled a dazzling team of Canadian comic talent. The cast of seven includes Eliza-Jane Scott as Jack, Cyrus Lane as the Villain, and Lori Nancy Kalamanski as the Fairy. “It’s been amazing for me to watch how they’re feeding off each other and coming together as an ensemble,” Ellul confided. “It’s been amazing to watch seven individual clowns develop.” 

According to Ellul, once playwright Ken MacDougall knew the casting, he tailored the script to fit the voices and talents of each actor. Even so, Ellul continued, “the script is very much a blueprint. There’s a setup and a joke, with the caveat that, if you’ve got a better one, let’s hear it in the rehearsal room. [The actors] didn’t waste a second.” 

On the day I spoke to Ellul and Ritschel, comic genius had struck twice. Eliza-Jane Scott had “realized that Jack didn’t have a moment where he kind of encapsulated everything,” Ellul told me. “So she went home and wrote a song based on a line that was in the script and summarized… everything that [Jack] had been through. She sent it as an email and I was listening…on my phone in a restaurant. I was laughing so hard I was in convulsions, all by myself — I looked like a crazy man in hysterics in the corner.”

Meanwhile, Ellul continued, Lane had completely rewritten the lyrics for the Villain’s big musical number, “and made it current and topical.” 

Pantomime’s embrace of improvisation means the show will keep transforming even after it opens. “The panto is like the ultimate playground for theatre,” said Ritschel. You get to interact with the audience and feed off [their] energy. If the audience gives you something that night, it’s going to be a different show.”

Unlike in more serious theat-ah, “the greatest gift that can happen is that somebody’s cellphone goes off in the audience,” Ellul added. “These [actors] will stop and say, ‘you better get it.’” 

Ellul and Ritschel took care to stress that all this fairy-tale funny business isn’t just for kids: this Jack and the Beanstalk has jokes for all ages. In fact, one of Panto’s superpowers is its ability to get every generation cackling. 

“I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than seeing three generations of a family laugh together in a theatre,” said Ritschel. “That doesn’t happen in other genres.”

Although this is the first time Lighthouse Theatre has staged a holiday panto, Ritschel and Ellul hope this is only the beginning of a new tradition. 

“The best thing I could hope for,” said Ellul, “is that people come out with a seed planted…‘Next year we’re bringing the grandparents, too.’” 

Panto “doesn’t care where you’re from,” insisted Ritschel. “[It] doesn’t care what other theatres you go to. It doesn’t care what your age is. Doesn’t care what your background is.”

So what does pantomime care about? 

“Joy,” said Ritschel. “Don’t worry about anything else. Just bring your joy.”


Jack and the Beanstalk opens at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover on November 30 and runs until December 9. In Port Colborne, the production opens at the Roselawn Theatre on December 13 and runs until December 17. You can learn more about the show here.