Screwball Comedy – all you ever wanted from the 30s

April 17, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

It will not matter if you have never watched an old black and white comic film from the late 1930’s. There were plenty of them, going back to the silent films in the 1920’s as well. Once the talkies and the depression hit the film going world, comedy was the best medicine for ailing times and writers came into their own with snappy dialogue and clever twists.

Hailing back to this exciting and very funny time of film is Norm Foster’s ‘Screwball Comedy’, named after the style of comedy that was prevalent in the ‘30’s. The play opened at Theatre Orangeville on April 5 and runs until April 22. Norm Foster, who attended the Opening Night on the 5th, was observed laughing as hard as any member of the audience, and well he should have.

He commented later- “With this cast – it’s so funny – they have really jelled. Their timing is perfect!”

The cast does indeed weave the magic: Mairi Babb as the ambitious young journalist, Mary Hayes, who is trying to knock her way into the big time; Melanie Janzen works it with three roles, costume and wigs changes in a hurry, still elegant coming back on stage: choose among them for the funniest if you can; Adrian Shepherd as the suave, vain, man about town, top hat journalist with all the moves for seduction, Jeff Kincaid; and Stephen Sparks doing the quick change, quick hair with four contrasting roles – can he keep them straight? Yes, he can.

And now, folks, for a synopsis: the editor of a big city newspaper, Bosco (Sparks #1) has a problem: the owner of the paper, a rich lady, Delores Diddle (Janzen #2) wants him to send his reporter, Jeff Kincaid, to wreck the upcoming marriage of her son, Chauncey (Sparks #2) to Gloria Fonatana (Janzen #3), presumed to be a gold digger. Mrs Diddle is herself engaged to Peter Terwilliger (Sparks #4)

Bosco’s secretary, Jonesy (Janzen #1) brings in Mary Hayes; she’s applying for a job, when in struts Jeff, the best in town but who has let his best slip into mediocrity.  In a flash of inspiration, Bosco sends the two of them off to report separately on the wedding situation to see who can write the best feature and win the only job on the paper.

At the Diddle’s mansion, we are introduced to the butler, Reginald (Sparks #3) and the whirlwind begins. The laughs start as soon as the curtain opens and never let up. It is enormous fun.

Mr Foster set himself on a different road to pen this play. One of the most important elements was to write characters with an “innocence about them you don’t see in today’s films.” It was also important to “make sure that no modern language crept into the dialogue. It had to be pure and true to that era.”

As it happens, the humour is true to the era and we were all laughing as much – maybe more! – as any modern play could ask for.

Modelled as it is on black and white films, the play takes the colour theme to heart. The very brilliant set, designed by Beckie Morris, is entirely shades of grey, black and white, as are the elegant and accurate costumes, credited to Alex Amini.

Nice lighting, whisking characters on and off, signalling changes in the moment, neat: created by Wendy Lundgren.

The whole production – sets and cast – is touring other theatres in Ontario over the next few months, always a credit to Mr. Foster’s well earned popularity and to how well Theatre Orangeville puts these things together.

There was a chance to speak to Stephen Sparks at the opening night reception about his many roles and the demands they make on his hair.

“I have to do my hair differently for each character and sometimes, it’s a really quick change.” In answer to a question about it, he informed us that he does his hair work himself, saying with a bit of a shrug, “because I can.”

Thinking of the very brief times between many moments of one of his characters exiting and another coming on, it must truly be nearly a magic act.

Kudos to David Nairn who directed the play. This play is complicated with timing as essential – no space for sloppiness in this tight and clever show. It is like a symphony of humour and Mr Nairn, as ever, has skillfully conducted the whole. Wonderful.

The opening night audience was faster than we have ever seen to jump to their feet for an standing ovation at the end of the performance. Later, well known photographer, Pete Paterson, declared, “This is Norm Foster’s best ever!”

Come and see it.

For tickets, go to the Box Office on 87 Broadway (Town Hall) or the Information Centre on Buena Vista; call them on 519-942-3423 or go online to

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