By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press
August 24, 2023
PORT DOVER—Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s 2023 summer season is ending the way it began, with a Norm Foster show on stage bringing the big laughs and memorable characters that could only come from the mind of one of Canada’s most well-loved and prolific playwrights.
While the season began with an excellent rendition of Foster’s ‘Come Down From Up River’, directed by acclaimed Canadian actress Sheila McCarthy, it ends with the world premiere of Foster’s newest work, ‘A Pack of Thieves’, directed by accomplished writer, director, and actor Jamie Williams.
The show brings together a powerhouse five-man comedy team of Lighthouse favourites to pull off the ultimate heist. Starring as best friends and neighbours are Jeffrey Wetsch as Chef and Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel as Rubber.
The play sees the pair presented with an out-of-the-blue opportunity to score a million bucks each by ‘stealing’ a prize racehorse from a local businessman, who is in on the scheme, and cashing in on the insurance money together.
Chef, owner of a failing restaurant, and Rubber, a tire salesman, are two men struggling through their own personal crises, both financial and personal. Neither have any experience pulling a heist, but Rubber has a plan.
He brings in three partners: a serial criminal with a serious distaste for potty mouth named Padre – played by Brad Rudy – and ‘the twins’ (not biological), a pair of hilariously dimwitted thugs with Brad Austin as Chip and Allan Cooke as Dale, who are brought in by Rubber in a bid to score favour with his girlfriend, who happens to be their cousin.
Foster describes the show as a “flat out comedy”, noting how he purposefully tried to challenge himself to write a show that didn’t rely on the heartfelt moments he is known for: “Feelings are good. But this one has none of that. Feelings be damned!”
Director Williams, who stages the action in a fast-paced, joke-a-minute pace that gives the audience just enough time to catch their breath before throwing another red-hot zinger at them, credits all five actors for making the show as memorable as it is: “I can’t think of five better gentlemen to tell this particular story.”
He’s not wrong. Each of the five performers bring a unique vibe that, when combined, makes for some great, belly-laugh-inducing moments throughout the show.
Wetsch and Ritschel are a great duo, with Wetsch wound tighter than a drum and Ritschel amiably clueless to the gravity of the situation they have placed themselves in. Rudy imbues Padre with a steely demeanour driven by a (deserved) lack of faith in his partners’ abilities, while Austin and Cooke steal the show, leaning right into the absolutely ridiculous characters they’ve been served and bringing big laughs with them.
After a summer full of shows with big themes about aging, acceptance, and illness, all delivered with a healthy dose of laughter notwithstanding, it’s great to kick back and enjoy a show with no greater ambition than to make you laugh solidly for two hours. ‘A Pack of Thieves’ accomplishes this goal with ease and brings Lighthouse’s perfect 2023 summer festival to an end in style.
Tickets and showtimes are available at lighthousetheatre.com. The play will be at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre until September 2, before moving on to Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre from September 6 to 17.
That’s not all from the fine folks at Lighthouse though, as they will bring their season-topping music revue show ‘Leisa Way’s Opry Gold’, featuring the Wayward Wind Band and running from September 5 to 16 in Dover and from September 20 to 24 in Port Colborne.
Plus, new for this season, their holiday pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ promises “uproarious comedy, fantastical costumes, and musical numbers that will knock your socks off” when it hits the Lighthouse stage this holiday season.
After studying journalism at Humber College, Mike Renzella desired to write professionally but found himself working in technical fields for many years. Beginning in 2019 as a freelancer, he joined the team full-time later that year. Since then, Mike has won several awards for his articles thanks to his commitment to presenting an unbiased, honest look at the important news and events shaping our community.