Norm Foster: Talking About Jonas and Barry in the Home

 

“This is only the third  staging of this new show,” said Upper Canada Playhouse artistic director, Donnie Bowes,

“Norm Foster’s comedy, Jonas and Barry in the Home, is coming to the Playhouse directly from Lighthouse Festival Theatre where it was completely sold out in advance. The show only premiered at Theatre Orangeville in October of last year.

Jonas and Barry is a real barn burner: it promises to be a great production.”

Opening at the Playhouse on September 8, running until October 2, Jonas and Barry stars playwright Norm Foster, David Nairn and Perrie Olthuis,  and has been directed by Derek Ritschel.

Norm Foster is one of Canada’s best known and most performed playwrights. 

His plays are hugely popular with Playhouse audiences. 

In 2014, the Ladies Foursome premiered at the Playhouse to great acclaim: the same season saw Norm Foster himself appearing in On A First Name Basis. 

In 2015, two of Foster’s shows, The Gentleman Clothier and Hilda’s Yard ( this one featuring the playwright on stage) packed the theatre.

Jonas and Barry in the Home continues the Foster tradition of comedy that develops naturally out of the playwright’s carefully drawn, “real” people. His characters invite audiences to share in their very special lives: an experience that is memorable, often touching, always richly comic. 

I talked to Norm Foster about Jonas and Barry in the Home and its unique elderly characters. 

“Barry is a retired dentist, who has come to live in the Home. He is essentially a rather grouchy individual,” Foster explained. “Jonas, on the other hand, is a former actor, a character who tends to be full of life.”

He laughed when I asked him, tongue in cheek, which role he was playing. 

“Naturally Jonas! My character actually wants to bring Barry out of his shell. Naturally, these two characters often end up at loggerheads. The humour in the play really grows out of this.”

Where did the idea for a play about two retired men at an “assisted living” facility come from?

“Well, David Nairn, who plays Barry the dentist  once jokingly suggested doing a play about seniors’ homes in Florida. The idea kind of stayed in my head,” Foster said, “and I worked with David on this play.”

“Jonas and Barry are definitely  living in a high end Home, full of people with whom they have a lot in common. And these residents are very lively people. Lots of trouble and shenanigans going on all the time at this retirement Home. 

Actually, some very ‘interesting’ events taking place,” he laughed. “This is the basis for much of the comedy in the show. And then you add Barry’s daughter to the mixture.”

Audience reaction to the production has been, as Foster put it, “over the top.”

“People just seem to be having so much fun,” he said. “We find ourselves holding lines because the laughter seems to be continuous. Yet there is also poignancy in the play. There are some touching moments, just as there are in real life.”

Foster has noted that the play has a wide-ranging appeal: people of all ages seem to understand and enjoy its humour.

Part of that powerful audience appeal may be due to the outstanding performers for this production. 

“David and Perrie are great: we’re all friends who have worked together before. They are actually, like me, the original cast, and Derek Ritschel is our original director,” Foster said. 

Foster is eager to return to Upper Canada Playhouse, and its  “great audiences.” His production opens on September 8.

I asked Foster which he loved more, writing or acting?

“I always say writing for me is satisfying; the acting is fun,” Norm Foster laughed. “And I’m going to keep right on writing until they actually come to haul me off to the Home. After all, I have bills to pay!”

Jonas and Barry in the Home opens at Upper Canada Playhouse September 8.

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