Norm Foster starring in On A First Name Basis

He’s an easy man to talk to.

Despite being forced to stand outside his car, struggling to keep decent local cell phone reception, despite having just pulled into town after a long drive down from Port Dover, Norm Foster handled yet another interview with grace, and with the trademark sense of humour for which he is known.

Foster, one of Canada’s most produced and most beloved playwrights, is in Morrisburg to star in Upper Canada Playhouse’s fourth summer production, On A First Name Basis, opening September 4 and running until the 28th of September.

Foster also wrote the play.

“Actually, I find it easier to act in my own plays than in someone else’s. I know the material well, and I can certainly interpret my character the way the ‘author’ sees him,” Foster laughed. “But I will say that I set high standards for myself as an actor because I want the show to be the best it can be for the audience.”

On A First Name Basis is a ‘two-hander’, staged with a cast of only two. Foster’s character, David Kilbride, is a very successful, well-to-do author – and a rather less successful human being. 

“It’s not so much that (David) means to be a jerk,” Foster explained. “The reality is that he has no social skills whatsoever. He speaks his mind without any regard to anyone else’s feelings.”

Enter Lucy Hopperstaad, Kilbride’s housekeeper of two decades, performed by noted actress of stage and television, Patricia Vanstone. Her Lucy has been with this man for more than 20 years, Yet, in the course of an evening, it becomes very clear that David knows absolutely nothing about the woman who has, for all intents and purposes, been closer to him than any other human being. 

“I’ve know Patricia since 1984, when she played in my Melville Boys,” Foster said. “We have done a lot of projects together over the years. When I asked Patricia to  take on the role of Lucy, it was because I thought she was perfect to play the wise-cracking, clever maid. Lucy has to show David that he can’t say the things he says, act the way he does. She helps him work on being a ‘human being’.”

As in all Foster plays, there is witty, hilarious, unexpected dialogue in On A First Name Basis. But, as is also a characteristic of Foster’s work, there are “tender moments” between these two very unique individuals as well. 

Foster is acclaimed for his ability to create ‘people’ on the stage that audiences understand.

“My characters are based on people I know, real, everyday people. Audiences may know someone like them, may even see themselves up there,” Foster explained. “I have a certain comfort level writing about those people because I feel that I understand them.”

Where do his ideas for plays come from?

“A lot of times a piece of music will put me in the mood to write. I may even be in the middle of writing one play when another play idea springs out at me. On very rare occasions, people may make suggestions to me that intrigue me, and I may develop a play from those conversations. And,” he added laughing, “those people get absolutely no credit whatever for the finished play!”

Foster often speaks his lines aloud as he writes them. 

“I want a natural flow of words  in my dialogues. Basically, I like to make an audience feel as though they are eaves-dropping on a conversation between two people. This is particularly true with On A First Name Basis, where audiences share two hours, in real time, of the exchanges between David and Lucy.”

Norm Foster also staged the premiere of The Ladies Foursome this summer at Upper Canada Playhouse, where it proved to be  an enormous success.

“I like the Playhouse,” Foster said, “It’s great to have the big crowds, and to have audiences which appreciate theatre. Donnie (Bowes) is also an old friend, and I enjoy bringing a show to him.The Playhouse is simply a great place to work.”

On A First Name Basis is directed by David Nairn, “who is the only director Patricia and I have had since we began touring this production three years ago,” Foster said. The set for the show has been designed by the Playhouse’s John Thompson, to adapt the blocking to the wider stage area at the Playhouse.

Audiences can look forward to a wonderful production as Upper Canada Playhouse welcomes Norm Foster and Patricia Vanstone, starring in Foster’s On A First Name Basis running from September 4-28. Contact the Playhouse at 1-613-543-3713.

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