Cailin Stadnyk & Peter Anderson
THE LOVE LIST
There are good reasons why Norm Foster is, as the Playhouse proudly advertises, “Canada’s most produced playwright.” First, he is remarkably prolific. The program lists 45 professionally produced plays since 1983, an average of almost two a year. (The Love List, from 2003, is number 31.) Second, requiring small casts and simple sets, most of the plays are inexpensive to produce. Third, a lot of them are funny. Foster has the facility of a whole team of sitcom writers, delivering a laugh line every 30 seconds or so. Finally, the plays are uncomplicated, often displaying a sentimental streak. They have populist appeal. No one ever need worry that they’re going to feel stupid at a Norm Foster play.
Some of the Foster plays we’ve seen in Vancouver are very good—The Melville Boys, Here on the Flight Path. A couple, such as The Foursome and Ethan Claymore, are simply awful. The Love List falls somewhere in the middle. The fairly ludicrous, mildly sexist plot, wherein two middle-aged men inadvertently create their ideal woman, is more I Dream of Jeannie than Pygmalion. The main fantasist, nerdy statistician Bill, is just one-dimensional (and is played one-dimensionally by Peter Anderson). His sarcastic, adulterous friend Leon manages a couple of dimensions and also has most of the punchlines, and Norm Foster, doubling here as actor and playwright, knows how to deliver a punchline. Ironically, Justine, the beautiful, sexy, compliant, oral-sex-loving woman they conjure, has the most substance of the three and the most variety. This has nothing to do with her character (since she has none; she’s merely a construct of their male fantasies) and everything to do with the Law of Unintended Consequences. But I’m overcomplicating. Anyway, Cailin Stadnyk does a fine job with her pre-programmed material.
Max Reimer directs this himself on Pam Johnson’s functional living room set, giving it the full weight of his authority as Artistic Managing Director of the Playhouse. But is The Love List really a “Playhouse play”? Should it be? Most of Foster’s work has premiered in places like Antigonish, Nova Scotia, North Hatley, Quebec, and Fergus, Ontario at venues like the Bluewater Summer Playhouse, the Lighthouse Festival Theatre and Lunchbox Theatre. The Love List premiered at the Thousand Island Playhouse in Gananoque. There’s nothing wrong with summer theatre fare or lunch-hour scripts. There’s certainly a role in the theatrical marketplace for undemanding light comedy. But material like this seems small, thin and shallow on the stage of a big-city regional theatre. I’m pretty sure that Foster’s Opening Night, opening this week at the Metro, is going to feel more comfortable, more at home in that smaller, community theatre venue that specializes in murder-mysteries and sex comedies, than The Love List does at the Playhouse.