Laughter and lots of heart in latest Upper Canada Playhouse production

Norm Foster's "Drinking Alone" runs until September 3.

Upper Canada Playhouse logo.

MORRISBURG– It was Leo Tolstoy who once wrote “All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way…” The Todd family, in Upper Canada Playhouse’s perceptive and very entertaining production of Norm Foster’s play, ‘Drinking Alone’, running until September 3, seems to know all about being unhappy. Family members are practically strangers. And yet as the play progresses, it may be possible that understanding, and happiness, could be lurking just around the corner – if the Todds can only get through one very tense, and often very hilarious family ‘reunion.’

Certainly there are issues in this family. Dad Ivan walked out on his children, Joe and Carrie, 25 years ago, leaving them with a mother who eventually succumbed to alcoholism. They have barely set eyes on him in all those years, except to learn that he has remarried, to Phyllis. Now he has demanded a “reunion,” giving no reasons, with his children, who definitely harbour grudges. As the Todds gather in the old family home, and barbed comments begin to fly, the audience has to wonder, is there anything that could possibly prevent a full-fledged family blow-up?

And that’s the moment Fate, in a bright red dress and a sparkly necklace, with a big grin, steps on stage and into the Todds’ lives.

Enter Renee of Dates Ahoy! hired, so she believes, to be Joe Todd’s dinner date at a fancy restaurant for a single night. It comes as quite a surprize to her, and the cause of a great deal of laughter, when she learns that she has actually been hired to be Joe’s “fiancee,” and is expected to pass herself off during the entire reunion as the ‘intended’ of a man she has known for about fifteen minutes. With words spilling out of her at a mile a minute, she (reasonably) demands: What about the details and the backstories! How can she keep everything straight at such short notice! Who are all these relatives anyway! She’s a hairdresser, not an actor! What does Joe even do! And in one of the ultimately funniest lines of the night, Renee finally takes a breath, and assures the rather stunned Joe, “I won’t volunteer anything. I’ll just speak if they ask me.”

Carrie, the sister, a newsreader on the local TV station, married to an older man, brings a hard attitude, rye, beer, and a sharp tongue to the reunion. “This is going to be as much fun as going to the gynecologist.” And there is Joe himself, who has always felt he had to step up and be the man of the house after Ivan walked out. He doggedly works a job he hates, struggles to keep things together, and has long ago tossed most of his dreams on a back shelf: he finally tells Ivan “You’re selling me short Dad. You always have.”

Phyllis, Ivan’s ‘new’ wife (25 years of marriage) rather sweetly and gently believes that she is coming home to finally meet her stepchildren, share their lives, play a little Trivial Pursuit, and enjoy a lovely family get together. She is in for quite a surprize.

And Ivan (who tends to deserve the nickname “The Terrible”) can be blunt, demanding and judgemental “I’ve always wanted the best for you kids, and you’re screwing up your lives.” He can be cutting in his comments. He is also the catalyst who drags old issues to the surface where every one must confront them – including, ultimately, him.

The magic of Norm Foster is that he can take such characters and create a play that is warm, perceptive and very, very funny. The audience was often roaring with laughter as the Todds play out their reunion. Foster doesn’t shy away from the issues in his play: he lets us see how real people might actually cope with them. In Foster’s hands, Joe, Phyllis, Carrie, Renee and even Ivan are people we can understand. Maybe we’ve even met them – in our own families. We laugh, we sympathize, we really learn to care for these characters. And, by the end of the play, oh how we hope that life is going to turn around for them all!

(And if Renee, Joe’s “fiancee,” has anything to do with the situation, it just might!)

Director Donnie Bowes’ cast is strong, versatile and memorable: Matthew Olver as Joe, Erin MacKinnon as Carrie, Linda Goranson as Phyllis, Daniel Michael Karpenchuk as Ivan and Annamarie Lea as Renee.

‘Drinking Alone’ is classic Norm Foster, a show that is fun, funny and full of heart.

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.