By Mike Keenan
“Hilda’s Yard.” is Norm Foster’s second play in his annual summertime trilogy set in downtown St. Catharines’ Recital Hall, part of the attractive FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. We are talking about two treasures here: Norm Foster and the PAC. St. Catharines is fortunate to have them both!
Patricia Vanstone sparkles as Hilda, the star of the show, the cement that keeps her zany family together with some help, sometimes misdirected, by husband Sam played by a somewhat doddering Foster himself. They are the Fluck family, and Foster adeptly mines silly names as shamelessly as those who bring us TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” claiming the European ancestors were none other than the noted acrobatic troupe, “The Flying Flucks.” Foster easily gets away with it because he is a genuinely funny man.
The play starts with the Flucks finally on their own after their grown children Gary and Janey leave the nest. They look forward to rekindling their romance in their “Golden Years,” and Sam has decided to put on his Sunday best to haggle and invest well over $300 for a TV set that will allow them to watch lawman Marshal Matt Dillon played by James Arness in “Gunsmoke.” Do you remember Miss Kitty?
Unfortunately, the love nest suddenly gets crowded with the unexpected return of the children, accompanied by serious afflictions. Gary (Daniel Briere) is on the lam, hiding from bookie Beverly Woytowitch (Darren Keay) who is attracted to Janey (Erin Mackinnon) who flees an abusive six-month marriage. In the process of this messy family reunion, we meet Bobbi Jakes (Amaka Umeh) a trombone player who has captured Gary’s heart.
While Hilda seeks solace by talking to an imaginary neighbour (Mrs. Lindstrom) myriad characters take turns climbing over her fence to complicate her life. Set in 1956, Sam complains about the cost of bread (more than a penny a slice), lack of loyalty by his 27-year employer and those drinking all of his Black Label beer.
The play clearly revolves around Vanstone’s superb portrayal of Hilda, but the other cast members have their moments. Keay’s smooth-talking Beverly primes Mackinnon’s tempestuous Janey to strut about Hilda’s clothesline like an Italian femme fatale. Biere’s impulsive Gary causes Umeh’s free-spirited Bobbi to make a difficult but logical decision. And Foster’s Sam moves from the male-dominant father-knows best to a more nuanced husband and father.
Set and costume designer Peter Hartwell of Shaw and Stratford fame keeps matters simple, reflecting a plausible 50s era middle class setting, and Shaw stalwart Jim Mezon (who was at the show making notes) excels as director-juggler, keeping all the balls in the air.
Mezon boasts an impressive resume at Shaw. In years gone by, I watched him perform in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (2011), “Hedda Gabler” (2012), “Juno and the Paycock” (2014), “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures” (2015) and “Saint Joan” (2017). The most powerful play that I have ever encountered at Shaw was watching Mezon, Corrine Koslo and Peter Krantz in “The Faith Healer” (2013).
The Foster Festival is fortunate to have acquired the talents of Hartwell and Mezon along with that of Guy Bannerman who appeared recently in “The Writer.”
“Beside Myself,” the third Foster Festival play, begins on July 31.
“Hilda’s Yard,” a must-see, directed by Jim Mezon plays at the PAC to July 26.
More Festival information is available at: https://www.fosterfestival.com/site/season-2019-norm-foster-festival
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