Hilarious and Heartfelt – Norm Foster’s ‘Drinking Alone’ opens at Upper Canada Playhouse

A tense moment during family game time – From the left, Daniel Michael Karpenchuk, Linda Goranson, Matthew Olver, Annamarie Lea and Erin MacKinnon. (The Leader/Gibb photo)

MORRISBURG – Families – you’ve got to love them, even when individual members are driving you crazy.

In Norm Foster’s classic play, ‘Drinking Alone,’ comic fireworks hilariously explode during that inevitable gathering – the family reunion. Only, in this sparkling Foster comedy, the Todd family may be even more dysfunctional than most!

Opening at Upper Canada Playhouse on August 17 and running until September 3, ‘Drinking Alone’ is vintage Foster. He creates “really well developed, believable characters,” said director Donnie Bowes. “Everybody can relate to these people – that’s the magic of Norm’s writing. And, let’s face it, everybody has had to deal with family dynamics. There’s always “something” going on in any family.”

Joe and Carrie have rarely seen their estranged father Ivan. He took off on them and their mother 25 years ago. Needless to say, they are highly suspicious when he announces that he is going to visit with his new wife, Phyllis. Joe, who has always felt that he fell well below his father’s expectations, actually decides to hire Renee, an escort from a service called Dates Ahoy, to pose as his fiancee for the evening – just to prove something to his demanding parent. But, in the nature of every family gathering, absolutely nothing about this reunion is going to go the way anyone expects. Old issues get dragged up. There are some scores to settle. Tempers get short. Pretty soon, “everything but the dishes are being thrown around as the Todd family deals with its checkered past.”

And who will find herself in the midst of this explosive family situation, trying to figure things out, trying to cope with one crisis after another, but Renee – who is hired help! Audiences are going to love this hilarious comedy of errors as hair dresser Renee is suddenly recast as “the referee.”

“This is one of Norm’s older scripts,” Bowes explained, “but his works endure. They are timeless and always entertain. He has always used humour as a way to talk about issues and life’s challenges. Norm Foster is an important playwright, who understands the realities of family life. And his plays are simply very, very funny.”

Bringing the dysfunctional Todds to life is a strong, talented cast.

AnnaMarie Lea, well-known to Playhouse audiences for such classic shows as ‘Wally’s Cafe,’ ‘The Cemetery Club,’ ‘Sugar Road ‘and ‘A Gift to Last,’ plays Renee. “Renee is single, a hairdresser, but unemployed, and she is also a mom. All she expected was to “pretend” for one night of dinner and dancing. This is not what happens,” AnnaMarie laughed. “But, interestingly, she actually ends up caring about this family. She’s been hurt. She understands what’s going on.”

Daniel Michael Karpenchuk is the patriarch Ivan. “He ought to be called Ivan the Terrible,” Daniel joked. “Everyone is desperately trying to impress him – but they’re scared of Ivan too. That leads to situations.” Karpenchuk, a noted performer of stage, TV and screen, appeared at the Playhouse in ‘The Christmas Express.’ ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ and most recently, in the new Norm Foster hit, ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home.’

Linda Goranson is a welcome returnee to the Playhouse. She has appeared in great productions like ‘The Cemetery Club,’ ‘Barefoot in the Park’ and ‘Steel Magnolias.’ “I play Ivan’s ‘new’ wife Phyllis,” Linda laughed. “New as in married for 25 years. Phyllis arrives at this reunion expecting it to be a charming, lovely family event. She definitely does not expect everything to go down hill almost immediately.”

Newcomer to the Playhouse, Matthew Olver, who plays son Joe Todd, has appeared in outstanding productions at the Lighthouse Theatre, The Foster Festival and the Grand Theatre.
“The thing is, Joe is desperately trying to ‘impress’ Dad, by showing off his ‘new friend’ Renee. He doesn’t need to be made to feel like a ‘loser,’” Matthew said, “as he has been in the past. Yes, he and Ivan are estranged, but he’s really just trying to get through this one night. Of course, it will all go wrong.”

Erin McKinnon takes on the role of daughter Carrie. Audiences will remember Erin from the Playhouse hit, ‘Sugar Road’, as well as ‘Hilda’s Yard,’ ‘Steel Magnolias’ and ‘Hotbed Hotel.’ “Carrie is a local newscaster, used to speaking her mind. Frankly, she’s got quite a mouth on her,” Erin laughs. “In some ways she is very, very much like her father, Ivan.”

With a strong stage crew and technical crew, and a terrific cast, “‘Drinking Alone’ is Foster’s gift to actors and audiences alike,” said Donnie Bowes. “These are fascinating characters, dealing with engaging and heartfelt situations.This show presents issues that are close to the bone – but definitely not far from the funny bone!”

Since you’re here…

… Thanks for reading this article. Local news is important. We hope that you continue to support local news in your community by reading The Leader, online and in print. Please consider subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Click here to subscribe today.

Subscribe to Email Alerts

Enter your email address to subscribe to Email Alerts and receive notifications of new posts by email whenever The Leader publishes new content on our website.