Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Photos: Left, An early production of The Long Weekend [http://www.normfoster.com/posters4.html]; Right, the Langham court production poster [http://langhamcourttheatre.bc.ca/]
This summer production at Langham Court Theatre is by Norm Foster, one of Canada’s most prolific and popular playwrights. What can you tell us about him?

Prolific and popular indeed! In fact, Foster has written over 40 plays, all of which have been produced…an outstanding achievement. He began playwriting in the 1980s and his plays have been performed coast to coast as well as in the States. As a comic playwright, Foster’s work is very popular with summer theatre and dinner theatre companies, although it has also been produced by a number of regional professional theatres. The Belfry, for example, has produced two Foster plays in recent years (Ethan Claymore, The Love List) and his plays are also popular at Langham Court (Maggie’s Getting Married, Here on the Flight Path). One might well ask what the level of quality could be in someone who writes so much, and, happily, for the most part with Foster, the quality is quite high. He writes situation comedies for the stage that are character-driven and tend to have a low-key charm about them…they feature real people struggling (comically) with real-life issues such as relationships, parenting, divorce and death. Foster himself says of his plays: "I think for the most part, they're about ordinary people just trying to get by in life. I never set out with a monumental purpose in mind. I'm not trying to teach an audience a lesson or pass along some profound message, because I don't think I'm qualified. What I am trying to do is make them feel a little better about this world, and that's not easy these days."[http://www.normfoster.com/bio.html]

So how does The Long Weekend fit into this description of his work?

The Long Weekend was first produced in 1994 and is a very typical example of Foster’s writing. It tells the story of two very mismatched married couples, Max and Wynn (Max is a successful personal injury lawyer, Wynn a successful psychologist specializing in relationships) and Abby and Roger (Abby runs a clothing store and Roger has quit his high school teaching job to become a screenwriter). Max and Wynn have built themselves a weekend getaway home and have invited their friends Abby and Roger for the weekend to see it for the first time. We quickly find out that there is a lot of history and tension amongst these 4 people. The women are old friends from their teen years, and yet can barely contain their mutual rivalry and jealousy of each other. The husbands can barely stand each other, and are almost total opposites; the high-flying ‘Type A’ lawyer Max and the under-achieving and neurotic ‘Type B’ Roger. A further spanner is thrown into the works when we realize that two of the four are already in an affair and the other two look to be heading that way as well. Act Two takes us 2 years into the future where we see that not very much has changed, that re-arranging the marriages has not made them any less mismatched, and the conclusion sees all four choosing another alternative to the one they’ve been sentenced to for far too long. The quips and barbs exchanged throughout the play hit a lot of audience members along the way, as Foster skewers the materialism of the middle classes, the drive for success over happiness, the pretensions of psychoanalysis and the inability of much of our ‘white’ Anglo-Saxon culture to be honest and direct with each other.

How does the production live up to the challenges of the play?

Very well. This is a good choice as a Langham Court show, and is an entertaining summer show at that. Regular Langham director Toshik Bukowiecki does a fine job keeping everything moving along on Bill Adams’ typically effective set and has cast the play with effective choices. Another Langham regular Wayne Yercha plays Max and captures his uptight character while making him likeable enough for us to stick with him and hope for his eventual happiness; a nice balance. Fran Patterson plays his first wife Wynn with her usual panache and confidence. I like Patterson’s physical ability to play comedy through her body, although in a comedy of manners such as this one, there are a couple of moments that come across as over-played. These people are repressed, so it becomes an interesting challenge for an actor as unrepressed as Patterson to make Wynn work. David MacPherson, well-known on many Victoria stages, does his usual solid work with Roger, making him believably whiny and ineffectual, but also appealing enough to attract a new partner. Lorene Cammiade, who played the lead in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at Langham last year, does a good job with the self-involved Abby, although she needs to work on maintaining eye contact with consistency. Lack of eye contact signals an actor’s insecurity onstage, so Cammiade needs to overcome that challenge to develop her skills.

Any reservations or quibbles to relate?

Not a lot. At times, for me, Foster can sometimes come across as cynical. Cynical about the possibility of real love and longterm relationships. Cynical about the ability of people to genuinely connect. In this he is very distinct from Neil Simon, with whom he is often compared. Simon’s worldview is often family-centred and warmly nostalgic, even hopeful (leaning toward the sentimental). While I value Foster’s steering away from easy sentimentality, I do wonder about his worldview. These are two childless couples in this play, a topic that is never raised, not once. Surely, this choice makes them somewhat unusual, if it is a choice? The fact that it is never mentioned makes it appear like a convenience for the playwright. Also, the play’s conclusion leaves an audience feeling that maybe we’re better off on our own in this world, that marriage serves to quash people’s dreams, a fairly negative outcome, really. Many of his other plays have much warmer endings, especially his plays written for the Christmas season, such as Ethan Claymore (a play I found quite moving). But plays such as this one, and The Love List (which I disliked for its implicit misogyny) can leave a trace of bitterness that leaves me to wonder if Foster is achieving what he sets out to do, to, as he says, “make [people] feel a little better about this world”. I guess everyone who sees this show will have the opportunity to make up their own minds.

The Long Weekend continues at Langham Court until July 26th. Tickets can be booked at 250-384-2142.

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