Having over twenty-five plays and musicals already penned and produced, and with three more premières scheduled in 2003, playwright/actor Norm Foster has become Canada’s most prolific, yet consistent, theatre humourist. With the landing of the twentieth production of Here on the Flight Path on the boards of the intimate and sight-line perfect Theatre in Port, hundreds more patrons will be treated to an exhilarating first taste or happy re-acquaintance with the sharp wit and occasional wisdom of this remarkable talent.
When asked during a phone interview if he self-identifies as a Canadian playwright or a playwright who is Canadian, Foster only hesitated for a second. “I don’t consciously put my “Canadianism” up on the stage, but it’s only natural that the settings and background that shape my work seep into its fabric.” A frequent performer in his own shows, Foster splits his professional life between writing (70%) and acting (30%). Wife Janet Monid (also an accomplished actor), reports “In the summer we just bring the kids with us and tour from show to show.”
Niagara-on-the-Lake-based actors/couple Bruce Davies (playing John Cummings, who seems as likely to have a meaningful relationship as actually writing the first word of his novel “It’s all planned out …”) and Alexis Koetting (triple duty as Fay/Angel/Gwen—the three balcony-mates who deftly reveal John’s foibles) are the stars. Their on-stage ease with one another keeps this production moving smoothly.
Of the two, Koetting steals the show. As Fay, the unapologetic “Merchant of Merriment,” she draws hoots and guffaws with her size-joke set-ups (“… he was so big that when fully engorged all the blood rushed down, causing him to faint.” John: “I’m feeling a bit dizzy myself.” Ka-boom!) or near-cliché observations (“Men are like kitchen tiles. Once they’ve been laid, you can walk all over them").
Throughout this first pairing, Davies seems to sputter more than deliver, nearly damaging his "growing interest" when he hurdles the short balcony rail. At first, there seems to be a bit of business designed to demonstrate nervousness, but, in fact, the incessant button tugging of his never-changed shirt is really an unchecked mannerism.
Act II’s opening is the gem of the night. Koetting (now Alberta-born Angel) has moved to the city to launch her unlikely acting career. Her timing, spark and over-eager enthusiasm make a hilarious “tour de farce,” bouncing perfectly off the age-outed (“Forty-two isn’t old,” “you’re about the same age as my daddy.”), dumped-for-a-poet narrator.
The 1996 script already shows its age. In today’s post-Enron environment, the revelation that Gwen’s banker-father has been charged with bankruptcy didn’t get a laugh and the stale, stereotypical “I’ll ask the gay guy at work—he’ll know about the theatre,” fell deservedly flat.
During all this, the aural glue to the title is the sound of a plane passing overhead. To begin each act (rather than flashing the lights or ringing a bell) it works fine; the occasional use for transitions is also OK. However, Davies, like his frequently missed beats, truncates his follow-along stares into the heavens before the fly-pasts are done. It also seems odd that nothing flies above during the scenes and (unlike John’s blanching when his post-coital lover describes his equipment as a hamster—he prefers the stud-icon horse designation) that these airborne projectiles are all the same model: Must have been the WestJet hub.
The arrival of Gwen brings more body function jokes (divorce by snot) and groaners that would give any aspiring writer hope (“My column, ‘Cummings and Goings’?, I write about what’s happening around town? Get it?”) not to mention “John, Gwen”—think NASA. By this time, the off-stage characters (Jimmy, another failed soul who celebrates wedding anniversaries without his wife and the all-seeing Mr. Bishop), like unseen Kramers, begin getting more laughs than the leads.
Stewart Simpson has designed a functional set and worked around its limitations with deft lighting that provides welcome relief to the, necessarily, stagnant components.
Veteran director Christopher McHarge has given his charges a relatively free rein and for the most part that works. But with so many lines and no costume change (except, incongruously, wearing a bathrobe over dress pants) plus limited body movement (shirt pulls, hands in pockets, imploring looks—fuelled by the third eye!), Davies can’t compete. By the final curtain, his character is the only one that hasn’t evolved.
As the finale to a fine meal, Here on the Flight Path is ideal: not too heavy, filled with frothy bits and a marvellous reminder that all relationships need nurturing. Take your partner and see! JWR