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Aug. 23, 2019 | Friday
Editorials and Opinions
On Stage: Shaw alumni stellar in Foster play
The cast of the Foster Festival’s play Beside Myself. (Supplied)

REVIEW BY MIKE KEENAN, SPECIAL.

Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature, worked in comparative mythology and religion. His most well-known work is “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” I fancy Campbell because he advised us to follow our bliss.

I think Canadian playwright Norm Foster heartily agrees with Campbell. The third work in his annual summertime trilogy just opened, another premiere – “Beside Myself” – at the Recital Hall inside the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.

And, of particular interest to Niagara-on-the-Lake residents and Shaw Festival fans, is that the annual Foster Festival has been augmented by some talented Shaw Festival alumni.

“Beside Myself” is a musical, book & lyrics by Foster, music and lyrics by Steve Thomas. I wondered if Foster could pull it off, combine his chatty humour with heart and music. No fears. Under Patricia Vanstone’s smooth and capable directing, the words become fluid and the singing blends perfectly with four capable actors operating on Peter Hartwell’s set, a musical trio sitting behind, composed of Steve Thomas (keyboard), Mike Allen (guitar) and Ian Copeland (drums).

The action starts off on a negative note as Paula (Gabrielle Jones) and Sam (Jonathan Whittaker) have decided to pack it in as a couple after 35 years of marriage. They divvy up their remaining treasures inside two boxes and wonder what would have happened if they’d never met. Would their dreams and ambitions come true?

From one box, Sam pulls out a “wishing stick,” a long-forgotten wedding gift (from friends deemed “cheaper than homemade wine”), which magically transports them back to their college days and the opportunity to rewrite their history together. Haven’t we all dreamed of that possibility?

Paula and Sam pretend to be university “liaison officers” as they try to drastically alter the pre-ordained paths of younger Paula (Breton Lalama) and younger Sam (Griffin Hewitt), determined to not allow them to make the same silly mistakes. But in this complicated process, their staleness is transformed into a sound partnership, once they learn to accept Joseph Campbell’s advice.

Congratulations to Emily Oriold, executive director of the Foster Festival, as she acquires more seasoned vets and rising stars in the cast and crew. Gabrielle Jones spent 12 seasons with the Shaw, six seasons at the Stratford Festival and five more with Drayton Entertainment. Her co-star, Jonathan Whittaker, boasts myriad credits and they worked flawlessly together.

Youngster Breton Lalama was excellent in her Foster Festival debut, back in St. Catharines where she first began her acting career with Garden City Productions. Griffin Hewitt, from Saskatchewan, displayed a fine voice as did all the others.

The program indicated that Peter Krantz was an assistant director. He gave the finest performance I have ever seen in Shaw’s “Faith Healer.” If you are counting, that’s Krantz, Mezon, Jones, Hartwell and Guy Bannerman (star of Foster’s “The Writer”) – all from Shaw. Not too shabby for St. Catharines. And don’t forget Norm Foster, whom I saw sitting in the rear of the hall and as I passed, I just had to say, “Thanks for writing so many great plays.”

More festival information is available at fosterfestival.com. “Beside Myself” plays till Aug. 17.

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