New Norm Foster comedy Halfway There opens at UCP

MORRISBURG – “Some may argue that Norm Foster is not Canada’s national playwright,” said Upper Canada Playhouse artistic director, Donnie Bowes, “but I believe without question that he is.

Who else but Norm Foster attracts such large audiences, audiences who see their own lives reflected in his plays, and leave those plays discussing his characters and his themes?”

The latest Norm Foster play to be performed at the Playhouse, Halfway There, runs from September 7 to October 1.

This production is staged by Jesse Collins, artistic director of Orillia Opera House.

He is also a veteran of the Playhouse, who has previously directed the major hits The Affections of May, Bedtime Stories, and authored last season’s smash, Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been.

He is excited to be directing the Playhouse’s last summer season production, this warm-hearted, Maritime comedy.

Collins, whose Orillia Opera House partnered with the Playhouse in touring the season’s first production, Barefoot in the Park, is pleased to be back at the Playhouse.

“This is a great place to come and work on a show,” he said. “And I’m lucky enough to have all my favourite people here in the cast for Halfway There. All of them just happen to be perfect for the show.”

The comedy of Halfway There revolves around Junior’s Café, a small diner in the town of Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. Three women, all of them very distinct personalities, gather at Junior’s every afternoon to catch up on each other’s lives and on the local gossip. Joining them is waitress Janine.

Into this small town world, out of the blue, comes Dr. Sean Merrit, taking over for the regular doctor for a month because Sean needs, as he puts it, to “escape for a while.”

The comedy grows out of the interplay and experiences of these characters.

“Maritimers have a way with words and phrases which Foster completely captures,” Collins said. “This play is set in a moment in time: it is strongly dialogue driven and not a door slamming farce. No space ships land,” he laughed.

“Yet the audience laughs to the ‘bottom of their heels’, and they share that laughter with the people all around them.

The comedy develops from these real people in Junior’s Café, from the circumstances they find themselves in, and from the way the audience can identify with them.”

The play is, as Bowes puts it, “a winning combination of hilarity and heart, the unique Foster experience.”

Collins is working with a very dynamic and talented cast in Halfway There.

Jamie Williams, well known to Playhouse audiences from productions like Run For Your Wife and The Affections of May, is Dr. Sean.

“Sean has had to deal with some events in his life,” Williams explained. “He’s actually a little lost, and needs time to think when he quite literally stumbles into Junior’s.”

Melanie Janzen, seen in Here on the Flightpath, is Rita, “one of those 50-60 aged women that Norm, bless his soul, writes for. Rita is single and relies deeply and profoundly on her friends.”

Debra Hale, who played in last season’s hit, There’s A Burglar in my Bed, is Mary Ellen, whose character “is married to Kyle, but definitely in a rut.”

Viviana Zarrillo is Vi, who is divorced, but “chuggin’ along with a new partner, until things stop chuggin’ along when Dr. Sean appears.” Zarrillo was in last season’s popular production of Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

Audiences will recall Jane Spence, who plays waitress Janine, from the Playhouse debut of Norm Foster’s The Foursome, female version. “Janine has moved back to Stewiacke,” Spence said, “and she is in a relationship with a man – but he’s off at the Oil Sands.”

The evocative set for the production has been designed and crafted by designer/technical director, Tristan Goethal, who explained that “I want people to feel that they really are in Stewiacke, at a place called Junior’s.”

Norm Foster’s Halfway There, running until October 1, is a play full of banter and fun, a warm-hearted and beautifully written comedy that audiences will be drawn to.