Old Love by Norm Foster
Directed by Sally Johnston
Produced by Audrianna DeSouza
Stage management by Stewart Crew
February 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14 (Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.)
Time: one hour, 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
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Norm Foster’s two-act romantic comedy Old Love is a gentle mix of pathos, dark humour and even a few belly laughs thrown in for good measure and, if handled properly, offers an audience a unique theatrical experience.
Theatre Woodstock, under the skillful guidance of director Sally Johnston gets it right on the money, nicely capturing the essence of Foster’s work with little unnecessary fanfare. Much of that success is due to a fairly clear, almost sparse set, designed by the director and Art Jones.
A cluttered stage would have been a distraction. What Johnston and Jones have devised allows the audience to focus its full attention on the company’s energetic four actors.
Operating within the confines of a relatively straightforward storyline, the company deftly handles the broader aspects of a romantic comedy, displaying its comfort with Foster’s touches of personal drama and insightful characterizations.
The action spans more than three decades, over which time a smitten Bud Mitchell (Dan Grass) meets (on several occasions) and falls hopelessly in love with his boss’s wife Molly Graham (Joanne Sweete). The comic meetings usually occur at after-hours business social events.
Other than the socially awkward employee’s infatuation with inebriated object of his desire, the action amounts to little more than a few shared words, all of which are promptly forgotten by the outwardly and bored Molly in a haze of alcoholic indifference. Each subsequent time they meet, she has no idea of who he is and the fact they have already met. It’s a clever set-up for some sort of resolution.
The story opens with a wonderful monologue of remembrance as the now divorced Bud recalls making a rather odd and equally inappropriate play for Molly many years ago at the funeral of her late husband Arthur, a man who is later revealed to be a serial adulterer, as well as a hugely successful businessman.
Foster’s work is played out in well-paced transitions of time and place, featuring both the two leads, younger versions of themselves and their respective mates – the philandering Arthur and Bud’s social-climbing wife Kitty, an obnoxious woman who is clearly in love with the concept of marriage, provided the package includes luxury trappings and all the appearances of being part of a successful upwardly mobile couple.
The play unfolds on a never-changing but highly effective set consisting of no more than a few perfunctory sticks of furniture. Other than the odd overcoat, all characters remain in the same costumes throughout, so the nuances reflecting change and sameness simultaneously are captured subtly.
According to Foster this is a play suggesting “people of a certain age shouldn’t be thinking about love, especially the physical kind.” The reality is that love comes from the heart unhindered by barriers like aging or economic status.
The result is a magical blend of humour and drama making their lives intriguing, perplexing and virtually inexplicable.
Despite a few hesitations with some of the more serious dialogue, the quartet of actors is first rate, tackling the wordsmith’s meaning with ease and affection. Dan Grass delivers a pleasingly relaxed performance as the present-day Bud, insecurities, regrets and yet-to-be fulfilled desires and all.
Joanne Sweete finds just the right notes of sympathy and sheer joy as Molly, a complex layered character.
Troy Douma handles his many roles – the past Bud, Arthur Senior and Arthur Junior – with supreme confidence. The versatile Tracey Price wears multiple hats and is delightful, offering past images of the young Molly, Kitty Mitchell, Kendra, Shirley, Delores, Claire and Sandra.
All four deliver the dialogue crisply and smoothly. There is an immediate comfort zone set-up the moment Grass delivers his first monologue. The quartet understands the intent of the author and subsequently delivers the lines with real gusto, conviction and appropriate emotion. The performances are natural and believable. They make Foster’s words theirs, ultimately drawing the audience into the quirky worlds of these individuals.
Johnston understands the importance of quick pacing and delivery. This compliments the work's essential tone, giving the production a sense of realism, rather than standard stagey performances that weigh down so many theatrical enterprises.
The Woodstock troupe gets Foster’s intent and, with Johnston at the helm, delivers a night of great entertainment. Old Love gets a much deserved **** out of four stars.
Caption: Pictured, standing, Troy Douma and Tracey Price. Seated, Joanne Sweete and Dan Grass. (Photo by Sally Johnston)