theatre review

by Norm Foster
Richmond Gateway Theatre
October 21-November 6
604-270-1812 or

Norm Foster is the most popular and easily the most prolific dramatist in Canada. He grinds out two or three new small cast comedies a year, many for the summer theatre market, and at any given time multiple productions of his work are going on across North America. This is not necessarily a formula for consistently high-quality playwriting. At best, as in The Melville Boys, he can be thoughtful and hilarious. At worst, as in Ethan Claymore which played at the Gateway a few years ago, he's dumb and unfunny. His latest play at the Gateway, Here on the Flight Path, is thankfully Foster at his best and easily the best comedy of the season.

We're looking at the back balconies of side-by-side apartments somewhere a few miles from an airport. On one side lives John (David Mackay), a thoughtful, horny, divorced newspaper columnist who shares with us his thoughts about the three very different single women (all played by a variously wigged Jennifer Lines) who move in next door over the course of three years. Fay is a hooker, Angel wants to be a singer and actress, Gwen is trying to deal with her broken marriage. John strikes up a relationship with each of them that turns out to be much deeper and more complicated than either he or the audience expects. The women themselves almost entirely avoid the cliché traps such characters hold for writers and actors. (Manic, airheaded Angel comes closest to going over the top, but Lines and Foster pull her back just in time.) While raucously comic, each segment has a sweet, tender ending that makes you love the characters and threatens to break your heart.

Give Foster big-time credit for writing that is deliriously funny and utterly real at the same time. But he's blessed here by two absolutely marvelous performances. On a consistent basis Mackay is probably the best comic actor in the city, and he's working with a gift of a script that gives him two or three big laughs a minute. He beautifully underplays John who, beneath his sharp wit, subtly grows from kind of a jerk into a real mensch. Lines plays naive, jaded, tough and gentle with equal aplomb, and she knows how to work a great comic line like Fay's: "Men are like kitchen tile--you lay them right the first time and you can walk on them for 20 years." Her Angel is hilarious whenever she sings out her personal anthem, "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl (watch out Arts Club!), and especially when she gets her first part--in Positively Ahab, a musical version of Moby Dick set in the '50s to a rock score. "It's like Grease with harpoons," John observes.. Her big love song is going to be a number called "Whale Be Together Again."

Director Rachel Ditor nicely modulates the transitions between such silliness and the more serious moments and helps deliver what felt to me, after seeing so much mediocrity this fall, like a small miracle of a show. Don't miss this one.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:22 PM
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