MORRISBURG – Ethan Claymore is well on his way to becoming a near recluse. Widowed, a farmer having a tough go making it on his egg sales, and mostly withdrawn from his community, he isn’t much into the “holiday spirit.”
What will it take to bring the joy of the Christmas season back into his life and heart, helping him to start over?
Well, in Norm Foster’s warm and wonderful comedy, Ethan Claymore’s Christmas, it may take a pushy neighbour, a lovely school teacher and one very determined ghost.
The cast of Ethan Claymore’s Christmas are into their final rehearsals before the production opens on November 28 at Upper Canada Playhouse, running until December 15.
Director Donnie Bowes, who has staged a number of Foster productions at the Playhouse, including this summer’s hit, Lunenburg, describes Foster as a “great writer,” who has a gift for writing authentic dialogue. “He is straight forward and his plays have a strong effect on an audience.”
Jesse Collins, in the title role of Ethan Claymore, remarked that “Norm writes colloquially. He rolls many things into his speeches that are very specific and musical.” Jamie Williams talks about a “drive to the dialogue.”
This is partly what makes working on a Foster play both challenging and enjoyable for this cast.
“Norm has actually written his version of a Christmas ghost story,” said actor Jamie Williams who does, in fact, play a ghost in this production. He is the ghost of Ethan’s late brother Martin.
“However, only Ethan can see this ghost. The two brothers were driven apart as boys, and now both Ethan and Martin need to work out their lives.”
Even as a ghost, Martin is still rather self-centred, still stuck on that childhood incident: like Ethan he also has to realize that it’s time to move on.
“At the same time,” Jamie laughed, “Martin enjoys how, even dead, he can still ‘irritate’ his brother.”
Ethan Claymore’s Christmas is set, as many Norm Foster plays are, in an utterly unique little rural community. The show is also full of laughter, and warmth, because Foster’s characters are so often people we somehow know, people to whom we can relate.
One of these ‘Foster people’ is Douglas, Ethan’s next door neighbour, a man determined to bring Ethan out of his shell.
Sweeney MacArthur is Douglas, the “George Clooney role,” he announced solemnly to laughter from the cast. Sweeney is enjoying the part. “Douglas is nosey,” Sweeney said, “but he actually has plans for his friend Ethan. He wants him in new clothes, out there meeting a new lady, getting some new friends, and getting a Christmas tree.”
And when it comes to that special lady in town, Viviana Zarrillo plays Teresa Pike, a school teacher, who is new to the small farming community.
“Teresa has a story too,” Viviana said. “What I love about her, and about this show, is that small towns really are places to truly get to know people. Norm also writes about second chances,” always suggesting in a play like this that the best is yet to come. “This show demonstrates that, and it’s an important message.”
In a flashback sequence in the play, three local young actors will take on the roles of Young Ethan and Young Martin. Gavin Veinotte plays Martin, while Jack Peets and Liam McMahon will share the role of Ethan.
“Ethan Claymore is kind of connected to all those great Christmas shows,” said Jesse Collins. “He needs to start over with his life even though it may take a ghost to help him do that. But that need to start over, well, we’ve all experienced that need. And that is one of Norm Foster’s themes in this play.”
On a set designed and lit by Sean Free, Ethan Claymore’s Christmas is a production, director Donnie Bowes describes as “filled with humour and heart. It is ideal for Christmas.”