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Nov. 14, 2019 | Thursday
Editorials and Opinions
Review: Newest Foster play a riveting production
Guy Bannerman (Donald) and Jamie Williams (Blake), Foster Festival 2019 - The Writer. (Alex Heidbuechel/Supplied)

REVIEW BY MIKE KEENAN, SPECIAL.

Yes, indeed, it’s already season number four at the Foster Festival in St. Catharines, which celebrates the prolific Canadian playwright’s endearing comedies.

This season, Foster has penned two more newbies for world premieres at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on St. Paul Street – “The Writer” and a musical, “Beside Myself” following last season’s new plays – “Renovations For Six” and “Come Down From Up River.”

“The Writer,” Foster’s 60th play, makes for compelling viewing. The story of Donald Wellner, a renowned playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner and his son Blake, a much more common travel writer/food reviewer who literally roams the earth and just doesn’t measure up to the old man, or does he?

This new work typifies Foster’s trademark “Humour with Heart” with riveting dialogue between Guy Bannerman (Donald) and Jamie Williams (Blake) who both occupy the minimalist stage for the entire production. Yet, for not one second does our attention waver as Foster astutely explores the intricate bond between father and son with a surprise ending that forces everyone to re-examine their original take on the delightful dueling duo.

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Bannerman, the Shaw Festival veteran actor who has appeared in over 4,000 performances, brings gravitas to his role as a father with a dark secret that he cannot reveal under normal circumstances, and Jamie Williams, who has performed in 15 Foster productions, adds tender pathos as he yearns for love and understanding from his father.

Patricia Vanstone is the capable director, Peter Hartwell (Shaw and Stratford), set and costume designer and Chris Malkowski, lighting designer. The script is tight, often hilarious and equally captivating as it zeroes in on the father-son relationship. It’s a delicate balancing act with the aging paternal caregiver ultimately switching roles as memory weakens and he is placed in a nursing home with not much to anchor his hopes other than a bottle of scotch.

Foster is so talented and comic that he adroitly assigns lines to an unseen lady next door to Bannerman in the nursing home, an inane sexual wannabee who has the house howling with laughter.

In her program notes, Vanstone explains that the story is primarily one about family – a father who consumes all of the oxygen in their relationships and a son who diligently acts as go-between for the estranged wife and daughter – along with a sharp commentary on the illusory concept of fame.

Emily Oriold, executive director of the festival, points out that “with three sparkling seasons under our belt we are thrilled to be once again bringing our audiences two Norm Foster world premieres in our 2019 season! Our audiences are the first in the world to see a new Norm Foster hit. That’s pretty special.”

After watching “The Writer,” I heartily agree. And I thoroughly recommend it.

The Foster Festival has picked up several former Shaw stalwarts. Bannerman has received the “Guthrie Award” at Stratford and the “Newton” and “Paul Reynolds Awards” at Shaw. Jim Mezon will direct his second Foster play this season, “Hilda’s Yard,” July 10 to 26. More festival information is available at: https://www.fosterfestival.com/site/season-2019-norm-foster-festival

“The Writer” by Norm Foster runs at the First-Ontario centre to July 5.

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