Premiere coming to Upper Canada Playhouse

Jesse Collins (left) and Norm Foster (right) took a few moments to talk with The Leader’s Wendy Gibb about the upcoming premiere of Foster’s new comedy ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home’ which opens June 2 at the Upper Canada Playhouse. (The Leader/Gibb photo)

MORRISBURG – Renowned playwright, Norm Foster, and noted director and actor Jesse Collins, took a few moments from intensive rehearsals for the exciting new comedy, ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home,’ opening at Upper Canada Playhouse on June 2, to talk about this much-anticipated world premiere.

Foster and Collins shared anecdotes, views about comedy, and the pleasures and challenges of preparing a brand new Foster show for its debut at the Playhouse. And ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home,’ according to Playhouse artistic director, Donnie Bowes, is “destined to become a classic hit.”

Norm Foster, an internationally known writer, who has authored some 65 plays, has chosen to hold premieres of other works, among them his ‘The Foursome,’ female version, at the Playhouse. “This theatre feels like coming home to me,” he said, when we talked in the theatre on Saturday, May 21. “This theatre is just the right size, and the reward of hearing laughter all around the actors is wonderful.”

Foster himself was at the Playhouse in 2016, starring in his play, ‘Jonas and Barry in the Home,’ when “a friend said to me, why not a female version of this show? The same thing happened after I wrote ‘The Foursome.’ So I thought about it, and eventually changed the characters around to become Doris and Ivy. I re-worked the plot: this is a whole new story, a completely new version.” ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home’ is one of eight new plays Foster wrote during the pandemic (“There are only so many Net Flicks you can watch!”) and the first of those eight to make its debut.

“Doris Mooney is a retired prison guard. Ivy Hoffbauer is a retired former world champion skier. And then there is Arthur Beech, who has designs on Ivy. Truthfully,” Norm Foster said, “it was great fun building these three characters from the ground up. Doris and Ivy are very, very different people, who check into the seniors’ home, Paradise Village, near Canmore, Alberta. Yet there is something about the two of them that connects, and eventually they become friends. I actually think that this play has a little more heart and is perhaps a little funnier than Jonas and Barry.”

Jesse Collins, who directed the premiere of ‘The Foursome,’ female version, at the Playhouse in 2014, broke in, laughing, “Yes, whenever Norm Foster changes a show from a male cast to a female cast he brings me in to direct.”

“Doris and Ivy in the Home has a special feel to it,” Jesse continued. “Norm and I have been in the theatre business for close to 40 years, and in this play we are also dealing with older actors. They each bring something unique to these roles.”

Starring in ‘Doris and Ivy’ is Debbie Collins, as Doris. Collins last appeared at the Playhouse in 2019’s ‘Where You Are.’ She has had a prolific and varied stage career in many Canadian theatres, including a spectacular one woman production, The Judy Garland Story. Making her debut at the Playhouse is Teri Cherniack. who appears as Ivy, with, as Jesse Collins puts it, “a resume´a mile long.” Teri has performed with Mirvish Productions, the NAC and Theatre Calgary. Arthur Beech is played by actor Daniel Michael Karpenchuk, who appeared at the Playhouse as Kris Kringle in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and ‘The Christmas Express.’ He has also appeared on Murdoch Mysteries on TV.

These three cast members have drawn considerable praise from both the playwright and the director.

“I had great fun writing the play,” Norm Foster said. “And when you write a play you hear the lines in your head. But to come here to the Playhouse and watch these actors read those lines for the first time – well, it’s amazing to hear the words in my head being spoken. There is a kind of rhythm that is part of the delivery of comedy, and these three actors, well, they’ve nailed it.”

“At some point, any show takes on a life of its own,” said Jesse Collins. “It has to. And this one definitely has. The cast has inhabited their characters, and now we are working on pace and structure in rehearsals. This will be a great run and a great show.”

Audiences have always loved “Foster’s brand of comedy,” said UCP artistic director Donnie Bowes, “because he writes about them. His plays are hilarious. They are also thought-provoking.”

“I write about real people,” Norm said, “my parents, people I knew growing up. The dialogue is the way people really talk: I hope that audiences can relate to my characters. Of course, it will be interesting when people first see this debut because there are places where Jesse and I, director and author, found something very funny: we hope they do too. Yet, at the same time, a live audience always creates surprises for us. Every audience finds something funny that we just never saw coming. And that’s what makes it interesting.”

Both playwright and director work well together, with Norm on set for the early rehearsals, where revisions and additions in dialogue are still a possibility in a first-run script.

“It just great working with Jesse,” Norm said. “We both watch the actors on the stage, and we can see the play coming to life right in front of us.”

“And I’m lucky,” Jesse added, “to have Norm here. Although,” he added, with a grin, “he’s actually only changed one line in all this time. He changed the word ‘body’ to ‘carcass,’ and, as I said to the cast, ‘we brought you all this way here to do that!’”

Donnie Bowes of Upper Canada Playhouse puts it this way: “Foster and Collins have provided the Playhouse with many hits over the years. They’re destined to do the same with ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home.’”

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