Review Foster Festival - Old Love by Norm Foster

Posted Jul 17th, 2017 in In the News, Reviews

Old Love 2017, Greatest Hit, Norm Foster Theatre Festival

(Booth Savage and Janet-Laine Green, Old Love, 2017) Review by Christopher Hoile

Old Love by Norm Foster
Directed by Patricia Vanstone

July 17, 2017 (St Catharines, ON) 


Bud: “I don’t think it’s the quantity of paint applied to the canvas.  I think it’s the vision”

The second offering of the Foster Festival’s second season is the only play of the season that is not a world premiere.  Old Love premiered at the Lighthouse Festival in Port Dover in 2008 and has since been seen all around Canada.  The production matches the same high standard of acting, direction and design of the previous four plays seen at the Foster Festival and shows that Foster, more like Alan Ayckbourn than like Neil Simon to whom he is often compared, continually experiments with the structure of his comedies.

The subject of Old Love is actually an old theme in Canadian drama.  It’s a subject one might call the “persistent wooer”.  In these plays an ordinary man despite repeated rejections simply will not give up trying to convince the woman he loves that he is worthy of her love.  One example is David French’s Salt-Water Moon (1984) in which Jacob Mercer tries over the course of one long evening to convince his former love Mary Snow, who is already engaged, to marry him.  Another is Gratien Gélinas’s La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux (1986) in which the title character upon learning that his secretly-beloved Laurencienne is newly widowed, sets about courting her. 

Foster’s Old Love is like Narcisse Mondoux in that both male characters begin wooing their secret beloveds at their late husbands’ funerals.  Yet, though Old Love may share a similar subject, the way Foster develops it is far more complex.  French and Gélinas tell their stories in a straightforward realistic manner.  Foster, in contrast, tells his story in a non-realistic manner and in non-chronological order.  This method is more theatrical and permits the audience often to know more about the situation on stage than do the characters.

Old Love has two narrators, Bud Mitchell and Molly Graham, who speak directly to the audience.  Scenes following each segment of narration illustrate what the character has said. We first meet Bud who announces, “This is the story of my pursuit of a good woman”.  For the first few scenes we think that the story will be told entirely from his point of view when, in a surprise move, Molly speaks directly to us and says, “This is the story of a messed up life”.

Old Love 2017, Greatest Hit, Norm Foster Theatre Festival

(Booth Savage and Janet-Laine Green, Old Love, 2017)

With this, Foster sets up a tension within the play that is not resolved until the last minutes of the final scene.  Bud has adored Molly from the first time he met her at a company Christmas party when he was still married to his wife Kitty and she was still married to her husband Arthur.  He had only two more brief meetings with Molly while her husband was alive and each only strengthened his desire for her.  Once he reads that Arthur has died, he begins his comically awkward, definitely inappropriate pursuit of her while she is still gazing into the grave of her newly buried husband.

Bud’s pursuit of Molly seems utterly hopeless until Molly’s first words as narrator.  We discover that Molly views her 34 years of marriage to Arthur as time wasted and irrecoverable.  He made Molly give up nursing, a profession she loved, to be his secretary.  He was an incorrigible philanderer.  And her son, Arthur, Jr., who should have been some comfort to her, has married a domineering woman whom Molly can’t stand.  From Molly’s narrative we thus see that what Bud has to overcome is more difficult than Molly’s mourning for her husband.  It is her resolution never to be tied to a man ever again.

Foster does not replay scenes from Bud’s and Molly’s different points of view.  Instead he has the two alternate as narrators with each one illuminating parts of the story of which the other is unaware.  Bud’s wife Kitty is more ambitious than Bud.  She wants him to get into Arthur’s “inner circle” and is proud to enter that circle herself when she becomes Arthur’s secretary sometime after Molly.  Bud has never understood why Arthur would sell his successful company, but from Molly’s narration we discover the secret reason for his action.

In Old Love Foster has created a play with wonderfully juicy roles for two actors.  Not only does the male actor play Bud but also Arthur, Sr., and Arthur Jr.  Not only does the female actor play Molly but Bud’s wife Kitty and Arthur Jr.’s wife, Kendra, plus three women with whom Bud had failed dates.  

Old Love 2017, Greatest Hit, Norm Foster Theatre Festival

(Booth Savage and Janet-Laine Green, Old Love, 2017)

Real-life couple Booth Savage and Janet-Laine Green give wonderful performances.  Savage plays Bud as just an ordinary guy who believes that hard work and persistence rather than schmoozing is how he will best get ahead.  The one thing that makes him unusual is his quixotic obsession with Molly.  It is this love that makes such a prosaic non-assertive person wax poetic and become inventive.  Savage distinguishes Bud from Arthur, Sr., by making the latter altogether more abrupt and forceful in speech and carriage, while his Arthur, Jr., seems more like a younger version of Bud.

Janet-Laine Green’s Molly is a much more complex character.  Her Molly is witty and sophisticated but we see as does Bud that this is just a façade to hide a fundamental sadness.  Foster shows us that Bud’s tenacity alone will not win Molly.  Rather, Molly has to win a battle that is raging within herself between the anger of 34 years lost in marriage plus the scorn her daughter-in-law has for older people in love versus the chance for happiness or disaster that Bud, a man she barely knows, holds out for her.  Green brings out all the nuances of Molly’s internal struggle with a sensitivity that goes beyond what one expects in a comedy.

Green also shows us early on that Kitty’s values completely clash with Bud’s so that we are not surprised that the two should later divorce.  Kitty’s assertiveness initially makes Bud look weak, but we gradually come to see how shallow she is in valuing flattery above hard work as a means to succeed.  In one short scene Green gives us a telling sketch of Kendra as a nasty piece of work who somehow thinks she will be exempt from the ravages of old age that she ridicules.

The action is staged in front of Peter Hartwell’s set of a stairway leading up to a window, which during all of Act 1 we see only from the back making it look more like an abstract rendering of a house.  Director Patricia Vanstone has saved its full use for two key scenes in Act 2 that are turning points in the comedy.

As in other Foster plays there is sadness behind the comedy – unhappiness in Bud’s life and in Molly’s.  That’s why we hope so much that Bud’s awkward pursuit of the love of his life will work out.  Yet, Foster keeps us in the deepest doubt about whether this will happen or not.  To find out you will have to see the play and in so doing enjoy the artistry of Foster’s writing and that of the cast and creative team who have given so much new love to Old Love. 

©Christopher Hoile
Note: This review is a Stage Door exclusive.

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