may 2017 | Volume 155
I made my way to Deep Cove Friday night for my first look at the Deep Cove Shaw Theatre, saw a spectacular rainbow across the cove and a beautiful, modern 130 seat house with steeply raked seats and great sightlines. I also saw a highly artificial but entertaining and very nicely produced comedy from one of the Shaw’s resident companies, First Impressions Theatre.
Norm Foster has long been one of Canada’s most popular and prolific comic playwrights. The two-hander On a First Name Basis is pretty typical Forster. It’s not his best (I’m a big fan of The Melville Boys and Here on the Flight Path), but it’s full of good one-liners with moderately serious elements to complement the laughs.
The stock situation is reminiscent of a 1950s English drawing room comedy. Lucy Hopperstaad (Louise Porter) has kept house for wealthy, successful spy novelist David Kilbride (Ryan Crocker) for 28 years, yet he doesn’t know her first name, her marital status or anything else about her. David is embarrassed to realize this, so decides they should spend the evening addressing each other by their first names and having Lucy tell him about her life. She demands the same from him in return. Fueled by cognac, scotch and wine, they end up revealing intimacies, truths and secrets—a couple of shockers in particular at the end.
Narcissistic David is comically oblivious of anything that’s not about him or that he can’t use as material for his books. Lucy is self-conscious about her lower socio-economic and educational status, but she’s smart, knowledgeable and caustically assertive. Gradually, with the help of the booze, they open up to each other and reveal their vulnerabilities and regrets. Lucy has never been married, David has three ex-wives; both turn out to be equally lonely. Both have family issues and sorrows they’ve never gotten over. No, they don’t fall into each other’s arms at the end of the play but they both shed some of their protective outer shells and become much more likeable than they are at the start.
Dealing with a script that’s all talk, director Claude A. Giroux has David seated for most of the show while Lucy circles around him, often speaking straight out to the audience. Porter uses a somewhat mannered vocal delivery that adds to the sense of artifice. But she has wicked comic timing that works nicely with Lucy’s outspoken truth-telling. (David’s last novel, she tells him, was boring, like quicksand, like a funeral procession …) Crocker’s David, composed and self-confident, has his own dry wit. Foster knows the comic power of repetition, and Crocker makes the phrase “97 thousand dollars” funnier each of the many times David says it. Giroux has the actors maintain a crisp pace that keeps the comedy buoyant.
Just as you warm to the characters over the course of the evening, the actors, too, become more attractive and endearing. It’s an evening of fine community theatre in a beautiful setting. I couldn’t have asked for much more.
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