Dueling Fosters: Hilarious “Opening Night” tops “Love List”

Don’t miss the “meet the playwright” session with Norm Foster at the Metro Theatre this Sunday!

Helen Volkow and Pat McDermott

Right now, there are two Norm Foster comedies on stage in Vancouver – one a professional show that co-stars the playwright himself, the other a nonprofessional community production at the Metro. I was fortunate enough to get to see both, and you may be surprised at which one is my favourite. “The Love List” premiered at the Playhouse a little over a week ago, and – it being my first exposure to a work by “Canada’s most prolific playwright” – I settled into my seat with curiosity and anticipation. What transpired was two hours of some of the biggest laughs I’ve had in a long time. And Norm Foster himself was a delight as the likeable rogue – his dynamic presence and razor-sharp delivery of the sarcastic banter was a sheer pleasure. But as the second act reached its midpoint, I sensed that something was lacking in the larger picture. The whole tale revolves around a single, Twilight-Zone-esque twist, and never builds significantly beyond that setup. Meanwhile, we wait for two of the (admittedly engaging and funny) characters to twig to what we’ve known for ages. It’s all entertaining but not as satisfying in the end as I’d wished it would be. Flash forward to “Opening Night”. This tale of two bickering couples – a wife with high-culture aspirations dragging her reluctant sports-loving husband to the theatre (Helen Volkow and Pat McDermott), and an anxious, acerbic director rebuffing his long-suffering, possibly pregnant girlfriend (Tim Vant and Caitlin Clugston) – provides great characters and a strong setup-and-payoff structure. In the latter, it outdoes “The Love List”, as multiple characters – drawn in broad but engaging strokes by a very capable cast – all wrestle with their own personal and professional problems that, in the finest comic tradition, soon intertwine and collide, resulting in delightful comic mayhem. And by the end, unlike the somewhat abrupt and arbitrary resolution of “The Love List”, we have much more believable – well, OK, almost believable – character changes, and a satisfyingly happy ending for all.

Tim Vant and Patrick Maloughney

David Wallace and Kari-Ann Wood

Along the way, there are some side-splitting lines and knowing digs at the theatre world, actors’ and directors’ egos, theatre critics (oops!) and the fickleness of fame. And the “farm drama” play-within-the-play is a screamer, with David Wallace and Kari-Ann Wood perfect as, respectively, a British actor trying to play Southern, and a ditzy but ambitious “actress” hired for her figure, not her ability. Add Patrick Maloughney and Martin Hallat as, respectively, frustrated and aspiring actors, and the ingredients are all there for a second-act implosion as the “play” goes spectacularly sideways. The only issue I had was with hearing all the great lines. Some of this was the inevitable opening-night adjustment to where the laughs are, and will no doubt be quickly adjusted, but some of it seemed traceable to projection problems and occasionally rushed lines. But this cast is sharp and these issues are bound to be quickly solved. So I now consider myself much better acquainted with Norm Foster’s sitcom-sharp writing, and can understand why he’s had such success with his crowd-pleasing comedies. Yes, they may be full of stereotypical characters, but they are used, and played, to perfection, at least in these two productions.

1 thought on “Dueling Fosters: Hilarious “Opening Night” tops “Love List”

  1. Loved to see Pat Maloughney achieve some of his aspirations as I knew him as a High School Student with lots of ability. I wished I was closer to see the play. Congratulations to all involved!.

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