Foster’s Screwball Comedy next at TO

March 23, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Written By Constance Scrafield

The birth of screwball comedy films was the 1930’s, the years of the Depression, when audiences were longing to laugh and, at the beginning of the decade, movies had become “talkies.” The screwball comedies were characterized by strong women, a satirical view of class structure in society, battles of the sexes and dialogue that was witty, sharp and very funny.

Stands to reason that Norm Foster would enjoy bringing a Screwball Comedy of his own to the stage.

This fine romp is up next at Theatre Orangeville, opening Thursday, April 5 and running to April 22.

For his plot, Mr. Foster sets the story in 1938, in a newspaper office, where reporter Jeff Kincaid is in trouble with his editor for “lacklustre performance” and – enter Mary Hayes, eager new reporter, ready to take up the slack, ready to jump into Jeff’s job. In a male-dominated profession, Mary knows she has to push hard to make her way. The editor sets them off to cover a society wedding and compete to see who will do the best job of reporting the big event.

So, we sat down with the cast of the upcoming Theatre Orangeville production to talk about it and the art of performing comedy.

Welcome one and all: Mairi Babb (Miracle on 34th Street), Stephan Sparks (The Gentleman Clothier), Adrian Shepherd (Queen Milli of Galt) and Melanie Janzen (The Ladies’ Foursome) just to recall one each of their credits here.

They were clear about many aspects of screwball comedies, how to do comedy and specifically, the demands of playing Norm Foster’s skillfully written dialogue. It is his rhythm that is just right, his perfect sense of timing, which is all important in comedy.

“This is a loving homage to the films of the 1930’s,” Ms. Janzen began the conversation. “It Happened One Night [the 1934 film]. It’s really a time that Norm would love – the time for writers when dialogue became the thing.” She added, “Norm has written [many] female characters and also women of ‘an age’.”

Along with Director, David Nairn, they bounced the subjects amongst them, providing a mini education on all three.

Commented Mr Shepherd: “Screwball comedies always have strong women – like Mr Smith Goes to Washington, his secretary knows everything…”

“Norm is not about farce or slapstick. His plays are not action driven – he writes people talking, funny repertoire, charm, humour. It is very clever.”

Said Mr. Sparks, “I read the play a hundred times and I was still laughing out loud.”

This is the crux of the matter: the first readings reveal a very funny play. “This is obvious,” the actor says to him/herself. “This is how it’s done.”

However, next comes the three weeks of intense, “crazy rehearsal” when the challenges and the nuances become clear and more thoroughly understood. That the place where one will stand to deliver the laugh has to be reached before the line is given is because “you can’t deliver the laugh while you’re moving” and “the movement to the laugh has to look effortless.”

In addition, “the work of the professional is to create the same thing [performance] over and over with every show.”

In this day and age of theatre, actors are expected to be the “triple threat” of acting, dance and musician/singer. So, they all understand the basic thing about comedy: its relationship to music is its rhythm and the delivery of it.

Ms. Babb offered the analogy: “You learn to play a piece of music from the score and you play it over and over to learn it. Then, you perform it from the soul.”

Yet, technique makes huge demands, in playing music as in doing comedy, for the sake of the timing and the rhythm, more than intuition. “It’s very rhythmic – push the metre too much and you’ll completely derail the moment – you have to just trust what [in this case, Mr. Foster has] written.”

The rehearsals provide the time to get to know the characters and the reasons for their doing what they do: “It’s trying to find the most appropriate reason for their actions.”

Whatever the dictates of the performance, each actor nevertheless brings his/her own self to it. “Every person is a different personality.”

“We do the three weeks of rehearsal so that the audience’s emotions run wild..”

Never mind the work, the rewards are more than worth it: after all the conditioning and rehearsing the comedy, there is the unknown element of opening night- “one of the things you have add and that is the audience! Comedy is the most fun because of the connection with the audience.”

They say, in drama school: “In drama, the character really wants something; in comedy, the character really, really wants something…”

Mr. Foster premiered Screwball Comedy last year at the Foster Festival in St. Catharines, which, by the bye, is the only festival in the world devoted to a Canadian playwright. The play was a resounding success.

Back to our actors telling us: “It’s very snappy dialogue and romantic intrigue.”

“Beautiful nostalgia of the old movies..”

“It looks fabulous – Beckie Morris has designed a beautiful set. The audience will say: ‘I know where we are.’”

“Comedy makes the best live theatre…”

David Nairn tied it up: “”It’s finally spring after a hard winter and it’s great to finally have a good laugh. This is a wonderful period piece.”

Screwball Comedy opens April 5 and runs to April 22. Tickets as always at the Box Office at 87 Broadway or the Information Centre on Buena Vista Drive at Highway 10; by telephone 519-942-3423 or online at

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