Arts and Entertainment

Caledon Townhall Players offer laughs with Jenny’s House of Joy

February 9, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“It’s about exactly what you think it is,” laughed Rose Brown, director of the Caledon Townhall Players’ next production – Jenny’s House of Joy by Norm Foster. “But not as bad as you think, it’s a very funny play.”

Set in 1871, in the small western town of Baxter Springs, Jenny’s House of Joy is Mr. Foster’s companion piece to his first Western play, Outlaw, which has an all-male cast. Balancing this, Norm Foster wrote Jenny’s House of Joy, with a plot taking place at the same time and in the same town as Outlaw, about Baxter Springs’ local brothel.

One of Caledon Town Hall Players’ (CTHP) favourites on the stage, Jennifer Bartrum plays Jenny Starbucks, the Madame of her House of Joy. She is a woman who believes in hard work and helping the local ladies when they need it. 

“She helps out women who are down on their luck for work and she employs them in the world’s oldest profession,” says Ms. Brown, 

The old pro in the House, Frances, is all answers and cynicism. A glass of whiskey is her best companion, but the younger and more ambitious Anita is determined to better herself. She is looking forward someday to taking tea with fine ladies in an elegant restaurant. She is determined to become a “society lady.”

Enter Natalie, fleeing an abusive relationship, looking for the job that Jenny might offer her, bringing “joy…” Natalie had never needed a job before, and this was the only one she could find.

“She basically left home at 19 when her mother died,” as Ms. Brown outlined, noting her story brings some “poignant moments.”

This is a Norm Foster play and it comes with a few assurances: that the situation will be handled with suitable irreverence and make us laugh, pull at our heartstrings, and go home with something to think about.

One character, Clara Casey, as Ms. Brown explained, has come to express her disapproval and disappointment that her husband has been there. She comes to find out why.

This cast is all ladies, the director noted. “Men are talked about but we never see upstairs. The whole play takes place in the sitting room.”

She admitted there is some broad language and that this is an adult-themed play. All the conversations happen during their downtime in the sitting room, talking just amongst the ladies themselves. The characters range in age from 25 to 60.

Why come to see this show?

“It’s well written and you really get an insight into how and why this all happens,” said Rose Brown. “What their darkest fears might be. All these ladies are over 20 – one says she’s 45…”

Rehearsals are going very well, she confirmed. The cast members are a lot of different personalities with “lots of strengths [as performers].”

Ms. Brown shared her approach to directing this particular play, telling us that she held a conversation with the cast first, reckoning that she is a very demanding director about blocking and learning the script. Also, there will be times, she told us, the ladies are a little more undressed than normal, but in the Victorian style: corsets, pantaloons, shawls and the like. They are up on stage dressed for the roles, costumed for the era.

Jenny accepts every proposal she gets.

“Jenny brings out the norms of Victoria time,” Rose Brown said. “She’s incredibly protective of her girls.”

She praised the lady actors: Jennifer Bartrum as Jenny, “She has a very mothering aura, very gentle when she speaks to people but can be tough if need be.”

Of Ashley Goldsmith, playing Anita, “Anita is a girlish bubble head; Ashley does an amazing job, plays the innocent so well.”

Trisha-Leigh Stone’s role is Frances, who is an older, very hard woman, sarcastic, and loves to drink. She carries a whole air of ‘I just don’t care,’ but sometimes the gentler side comes out.”

Also, a familiar figure on the CTHP stage, Kim Blacklock is Natalie, the newcomer, “She starts out quiet, shut-down; as she gets more comfortable but very professional –then, she’s no-nonsense and Kim plays it really well.” 

The wife who wants the ladies to refuse her husband is performed by Susan McLay, “Clara, the loyal involved wife but – there’s a twist.”

CTHP has hosted Ms. Brown in a couple of performances. She was also involved with community theatres in Brampton, liking the small venues they occupy, saying, “there’s more feedback from the small theatre. They’re intimate.”

During her years with community theatres, Rose Brown has done it all – costumes, took a role in a panto, roles with Brampton Music Theatre, Mississauga Theatre and various festivals.

“I’ve done it all,” she said. “Lights, sets, props …”

For her, the beginning was working in a costume store. People came in looking for costumes, and she and her husband discovered a theatre and “dove in.”

Her husband likes to build sets.

She encouraged us all to come and see this very funny play about the “oldest profession.”

“It’s a Norm Foster [play], there are incredible actors, laughs, heart strings. It’s enjoyable.”

Jenny’s House of Joy opens Feb. 17 and runs to Feb. 25 on Friday and Saturday, with matinees and dinner on Saturdays. Knox United Church is doing dinner for both Saturdays. Tickets are now available at

For information call 519-927-5460

Truth is, if heart strings were a musical instrument, Norm Foster could star in a symphony orchestra.

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