Doris and Ivy in the Home: A laugher-filled premiere

Ivy (Terri Cherniack), Doris (Debbie Collins) and Arthur (Daniel Michael Karpenchuk), share a bottle and a laugh on the back patio of Paradise Village, the retirement home setting for the new Norm Foster comedy currently on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse.

MORRISBURG – Paradise Village. An upscale retirement home, complete with all the classic amenities. Also a spot for upscale seniors to age gracefully while elegantly dining, engaging in polite social discourse, and enjoying genteel parlour games and gatherings….

That is until the arrival of Doris Mooney, who makes it her mission to pitch out every pre-conceived notion of just what “senior living” ought to be. Especially for her fellow residents Ivy Hoffbauer and Arthur Beech. Doris is only getting started when she announces on games day: “So what’s on the agenda? Bridge night? Canasta night? Pin the catheter on Murray night?”

Norm Foster’s new play, ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home,’ made its world premiere at Upper Canada Playhouse on Friday, June 3, to the applause of a delighted audience. Directed by Jesse Collins, with Debbie Collins as Doris, Terri Cherniack as Ivy Hoffbauer and Daniel Michael Karpenchuk as Arthur Beech, this play is classic Foster. He writes characters that people ‘recognize’, who speak the way genuine people speak. Doris, Ivy and Arthur face some of the problems that real people must face as they age, and in Foster’s play, they do so with wit and heart.

Doris was a prison guard for her entire career, a woman making it in a man’s world, whose language runs more to “people can be awful buggers” than delicate “pooh poohs.” She can be brash and bold, and doesn’t have time for toning things down. A widow, and childless, she has chosen a life pretty much alone. “I love men. Just not 24/7. Having them around all the time is like a Jacob Marley chain.” Perhaps because she senses that she is now living “in a geriatric purgatory,” Doris is eager to become a catalyst for change.

Ivy Hoffbauer is an Austrian ski champion, who has already been at Paradise Village for a few years. Her abrupt move to Canada may have been occasioned, however, by a widely televised disastrous “incident” on her final championship run 50 years ago. To Ivy’s embarrassment, “Hoffbauering” has since become a sports term that means messing up completely. Hoffbauering might indeed explain why she has had three husbands: “One cheated. One was a drunk. One a con man.” She has made a habit of distancing herself from commitments. Yet, in the end, she is perceptive and understanding, seeing past Doris’ “rough edges” to the lonely woman beneath who needs a real, true friend.

Arthur Beecher is a man of letters, an academic PhD who chose a life of books and language early on, and “got used to the beatings” from more sports minded lads. He loves words. Poetry is his bulwark against the problems and challenges of life – he can drop a limerick at the drop of a hat. He was happily married once, but she died. Now in his own way, he is ardently wooing Ivy – who chooses to be unaware. As a blunt Doris explains to him, “you need to do things! Deeds not words!” to get to ‘first base.’ Arthur: “I’m not familiar with North American sporting terms.” Doris: “Well, where are you from?” Arthur: “Moose Jaw.” Yet Arthur still believes in the magic that is love.

There are huge laughs in this show. The actors are splendid. Ivy and Doris are witty, sharp people in Norm Foster’s hands. Through these two unlikely friends, the challenges of retirement living take a comic hit, from al fresco dining, to yoga, to the ardent goings on between two “ambidextrous” fellow seniors in a flowery field just off the patio. (Ivy and Doris use binoculars.)

However, this is also a play with intriguing, thoughtful depths.

Perhaps no one but Norm Foster could tackle issues – loneliness, illness, the chances, and the roads not taken – in a comedy, issues, which, by their very nature are often dark themes. Yet in ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home,’ he lets us see that laughter with good friends may in the end be the best way to cope with life’s uncertainties, no matter what your age.

There really is a ‘joie de vivre’ about this latest Norm Foster play. The Friday night audience grinned, laughed, applauded. It was a pleasure to spend time with Doris and Ivy and Arthur on the back patio of Paradise Village. After all, these three share a philosophy we can all understand: “Sometimes a person just wants to be held. They just want to feel at peace in somebody’s arms.”

‘Doris and Ivy in the Home’ runs at Upper Canada Playhouse until June 26.

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