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Stage Door Reviews of
Theatre on the Grand 1999 Season

Stage Door Guest Reviews
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Wrong for Each Other guest review by Jonathan Harrison

Wrong for Each Other, Theatre on the Grand's second production of this season, is a smooth presentation. Its a Norm Foster two-hander starring Joel Kaiser as Rudy and Megan Francis as Norah. They play a couple formerly married to each other who meet by chance at a downtown restaurant. The audience is given a series of reminders about what goes wrong in marriages. The reminders come in the form of (often) humourous flashbacks on the life they both shared, starting from when they first met in a plant shop, to their separation and eventual re-meeting here. Sometimes a little poignant, but most often with an appreciation for a strong hold on humour, Wrong for Each Other might just be the truth of the matter, for I don't think I would have given this pair much of a chance.

He paints houses and she runs a civic centre. He loves his folks but she has a father fixation. He wants a family and she figures she 'is' the family. He likes ball games and she likes bassoons. He wants her far more than she wants him. They are not a strong match. But then he's older than she. And its the growing up that pulls the whole play together. For if the first act is the history of the matter, then the second is the hope. And the hope is worth waiting for.

In writing this play Foster has tackled the difficult task of turning private conversations into public domain. That's normally the case with a play, but in this instance I couldn't help thinking that the public was being catered to just a little too much. I didn't get the impression I was eavesdropping on Rudy and Norah's private conversations, I got the impression I was being entertained by Norm Foster.

But Norm Foster is very entertaining and the show moves with incredible ease from one scene to another. This is thanks in part to Foster's agile dialogue and thanks also to the vision that Dennis Horn's beautifully simple set adds to the work of director Christopher McHarge. Watch the ease with which the couple move from dining table to apartment room, to baseball game, or to roller coaster ride and you'll have an appreciation for the little things in life (hint, don't miss the menu's in the roller coaster). A master touch. If only the relationship were as smooth.

But its a man's play. Kaiser' role has lots of models to choose from (Alan Arkin, Alan Alda, even Paul Reisser) but Megan Francis is left to find a persona of her own and I don't think the task an easy one. She is given some beguiling moments, (when she agrees to sex, when she tells Rudy she loves him) and she is given some sorrow, but mostly its Rudy who does the talking.
The man doing all the talking? That can't be right. Must be something Norm Foster thought up . . . . For Arts' Sake.

Wrong for Each Other runs at Fergus, Theatre on the Grand till July 24, 1999. Tickets at (519) 787-1981

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18 Wheels
by John Gray

Stage Door Guest Review by Jonathan Harrison

Wanna meet something that drinks more gas than your family ATV?

Take a drive up Highway #6 to Fergus’ Theatre on The Grand and catch the show that opened there last week. There’s a truck on the stage that’ll frighten the hell out of your gas card. An old White truck. Its there for John Gray’s 18 Wheels.

Written in 1976 when gas first hit the dollar a gallon mark, 18 Wheels is a musical salute to some of Canada’a finest, our long distance truck drivers. The show follows that silly euphoric exuberance shared by all truck drivers who start off small, working for someone else, but whose dream is to own their very own rig.

18 Wheels will no doubt cover some familiar territory. There are vivid descriptions of the miles of Ontario forest land, then the flat, endless prairie and then the mountains with their twisted, tortuous roads where a missed gear change or a "blow out in the front" will find you rusting dead in your rig at the bottom of the canyon ‘cause there ain’t no way of gettin’ you out.

18 Wheels is a musical that leans toward country with a little bit of gospel thrown in. Also there is the poetic skill of a modern-day Robert W. Service. The second act in particular reads like a shaggy dog tale with poetry, drama and song all hauling together in the same big rig.

I applauded the coffee shop scene which takes up a large part of the first act. There, two dead tired drivers, Lloyd (Sam Owen) and Jim (Carmelo Iachelli) gather to eat a believably improbable ice cream sundae. But its not the food that makes the Hollywood Grill so attractive, its the waitress . . . . "Her name is Sadie, a hell of a lady, She’s the star of the Hollywood Grill".

But Sadie’s tale is a sad one. She (Kim Shulze) started out down East, pure and hopeful, hopped a ride to Toronto and finished up sullied, sad, but tough as nails, at this Alberta truck stop, the Hollywood Grill. This is in strong contrast to Molly, the other woman in the show. Molly (Lisa Horner) is no one’s victim. While her husband is away haulin’ she, in a wonderfully poetic display of Gray’s imagination, "met a man with a pencil moustache" and fell in love. She manages to mend her marriage when her husband finds out, and he teaches her to drive a rig. And, wouldn’t cha know it? The gal’s a natural. She goes haulin’ with hubby until a shiny American rig takes her fancy and she goes haulin clear across the Good ‘Ol U.S. of A with her husband bobtailin’ around trying to catch her again. Too late.

Director Christopher McHarge has managed to put together an entertaining show which will please most who see it. McHarge was part of the design team which also included Greg Bride, Lyle Franklin and Eric Goudie. I don’t know if they built a truck or bought one but it sure does look good on the Fergus stage.

Under the musical direction of Colin Stewart (bass guitar), the band of John Kenny, guitar, Aaron W MacDonald, saxaphone, Don Reid, drums, with Scott McCutcheaon and David Testolin all do a fine job of delivering the goods.

So put the hammer down, good buddy, and take a trip to see the 18 wheeler playing at Fergus Theatre on the Grand till Aug 28th . . . . For Arts’ Sake.

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Whole Lotto Love

by Kevin Arthur Lund directed by Christopher McHargue
Fergus Theatre on the Grand from Sep 9th till Oct 2nd
Stage Door Guest review by Jonathan Harrison

Lotto Love not a big winner


FERGUS: Artistic director Christopher McHargue has found a tough piece of work in Whole Lotto Love written by Hamilton native Kevin Arthur Land. The play takes place in Dwight’s apartment. His estranged wife has come to pay him a call because she believes they (read she) have the winning lottery numbers for the latest $2.7 million draw. She wants the cash. He wants her back.

Lotto Love opened on Thursday night. Land’s is a neat concept but his characters need more definition. Waterloo native Stephanie Graham is challenged by a role (the wife, Lenore) that lacks dimension. As it stands now the audience has to accept that she really does have the strength of character and potential for honesty that husband Dwight (Samuel Owen) credits her with. Dwight, an apartment superintendent, fares better and is able to display his gracious generosity by his behaviour toward his tenants.

Land can draw strong visual images. Dwight likens a low sperm count to a "water polo team lost in the middle of the Atlantic". Lenore regards their marriage as a "long term disability". Dwight waxes poetic about breaking chilli-induced wind in an elevator. The audience howled at Owen’s delivery.

The last five minutes of the play are totally beguiling. In them the audience is treated to a touching and acceptably believable resolution to the situation. Those five minutes deserve to be appreciated but you might find the journey there a little slow and unrewarding . . . For Arts’ Sake.

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