by Mike Keenan
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 FirstOntario’s Performing Arts Centre.
“Beside Myself” is a musical, book & lyrics by Norm Foster, music & 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 “cheaper than home-made 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 at the Foster Festival as she acquires more seasoned vets and rising stars in the cast and crew. Gabrielle Jones spent twelve seasons with The Shaw Festival, 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 is now an assistant director. Peter gave the finest performance I have ever seen in Shaw’s “Faith Healer.” If you are counting, that’s Krantz, Mezon, Jones, Hartwell and Bannerman 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 had to say, “Thanks for writing so many great plays.”
More Festival information is available at: https://www.fosterfestival.com/site/season-2019-norm-foster-festival “Beside Myself” plays to August 17.
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