Halfway There: warm and witty Playhouse comedy

Laughter…and cake…served up in Halfway There – Upper Canada Playhouse’s delightful new Norm Foster comedy, Halfway There, is set in Junior’s Café in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, where a group of colourful characters gathers to deal with the comings and the goings of life. Directed by Jesse Collins, the production features (l-r) Debra Hale, Jane Spence, Jamie Williams, Melanie Janzen and Viviana Zarrillo. (The Leader/Gibb photo)

MORRISBURG – “There are no secrets in Stewiacke.”

“There could be if you girls just tried!”

Dr. Sean Merrit, Toronto refugee, unsuspecting Big City Boy, is forced to learn just what it means to take up residence in Small Town Nova Scotia. Fortunately for the audience, four rather remarkable Stewiacke women, congregating at Junior’s Café, are more than willing to help in his education. And that, of course, means no more secrets.

Norm Foster’s gentle, home-spun comedy, Halfway There, running at Upper Canada Playhouse until October 1, is a play about people.

It focuses on the intimate, wonderful details that make up real life among real people. Who is seeing whom? Whose kids are running wild? What marriages are rock solid? Which ones on the rocks? Whose heart most needs some healing? What’s Junior serving up as the special of the day?

As one of the women informs Dr. Sean, “No one’s in a rush here. You meet someone, you end up talking for half an hour.”

Director of Halfway There Jesse Collins, who has worked several times on Norm Foster productions, believes that Foster writes the way real people speak. His plays are “dialogue driven”, with the humour flowing out of the relationships among the characters.

And plainly Norm Foster loves small towns and small town people.

He loves the quirks and the conceits, the laughter and the tears, even the honest nosiness, so much part of any small town. The characters in his plays, as actor Melanie Janzen said, “are living a life.”

Halfway There is set in a small hamlet. The audience is invited to spend some time in the company of Vi, Rita, Mary Ellen and Janine. Over cake and coffee, every afternoon at Junior’s Café, these unique women share their lives with each other and with us.

As the play develops, we instinctively connect with this world.

After all, what small town doesn’t have a few oddly named individuals, a “Pooch” or a “Father What a Waste”? What small town doesn’t have a Dugan’s where absolutely everyone goes on a Saturday night?

And if a perfect stranger, especially an eligible doctor with a few secrets, is dropped into town, why it’s only neighbourly to find out everything about him and to immediately share those details.

“I told you we don’t keep secrets here,” Janine says.

“But you could just try!” an exasperated Dr. Sean exclaims.

To the audience’s great delight, this big city medic, unexpectedly stumbling into Stewiacke, never has a chance. Fixing Dr. Sean’s life is instantly a mission for the Junior’s Café ladies.

Jamie Williams as Sean, Melanie Janzen as Rita, Debra Hale as Mary Ellen, Viviana Zarrillo as Vi and Jane Spence as Janine build characters that we quickly find we want to spend time with.

None is one dimensional.

As the play develops the audience has a chance to glimpse the real, sometimes vulnerable person behind the public face that each Stewiacke character wears every day.

Janzen’s Rita is outspoken, brassy. As Mary Ellen puts it, “The dresses I wear say I’m a married woman. The dresses you wear say open for business.” Yet there are reasons for Rita’s brash style and we can sympathize.

Mary Ellen has the ‘perfect’ marriage: yet she no longer feels special or even “important” to her menfolk. Vi is blunt and realistic about her long time live-in. “Me and Johnny talk about nothing all the time. If we started talking about something I’d think we were drifting apart. “

Janine is warm, funny, clever… and lonely, tied to a man absent in more ways than one.

Sean, too, eventually admits that he once had “hopeful dreams. But here I am sitting in a place halfway to the North Pole.” He’s been hurt.

However, being ‘broad-sided’ by the ladies of Stewiacke may be just what his broken heart needs.

Witty banter, hilarious lines, people we care about are characteristic of Norm Foster plays. In Halfway There the laughter is infectious.

The set designed and built by Playhouse technical director Tristan Goethel is warm and inviting.

Right down to the ever present napkin dispensers on the cozy tables and the tiny lacy curtains on the wide windows, Junior’s Café is very much alive. Goethel’s design makes it feel and look like a place where a person might be happy to spend a good chunk of every day.

Plan to enjoy a little time in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, with Vi, Janine, Mary Ellen, Rita and Dr. Sean. There’s always room for one more around a table at Junior’s:rest assured that life will always be interesting there, and friendships will be forever.

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