When Friends are Your Family
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Stewiacke, Nova Scotia must be an interesting town. The residents have one claim to fame: Stewiacke is located halfway between the equator and the north pole. Hence the name of the play, Halfway There. Playwright Norm Foster has created a laugh-a-minute comedy set in this town, and the Orillia Opera House has made the most of this script.
Four women meet regularly at the diner to enjoy their coffee but mostly to talk about their lives. Janine, the youngest of the group, is a server at the restaurant, but as we soon learn, she’s back home by choice after having a career in Montreal with opportunities to travel the world.
The other three, Rita, Mary Ellen and Vi each have their own interesting lives, and much of the discussion is around their men, with lots of jokes about their sex lives. The conversation covers a botched circumcision, and Father What-a-Waste, the local priest who is too good-looking to be a priest. Into this mix walks a handsome new doctor, just in town from Toronto to temporarily help out with the local doctor’s practice. Within a month, the routine coffee klatch is turned topsy-turvy.
The women have to overlook the fact that the doctor comes from Toronto, which they hate, and come to realize that he might be a nice guy. The four women support each other as changes are thrust upon them and their friendship is stronger than any family ties.
Norm Foster launched this play a few years before Covid, but due to the pandemic, it hasn’t made the rounds to all theatres. It’s a smart Norm Foster play, with clever writing, witty dialogue, and some jokes that might border on naughty. It’s not for prudes. It also offers some sweet, poignant moments in the various relationships which will bring a tear to your eye, or a desire to run on stage and hug the characters.
What really makes this show a must-see is the excellent casting. Alison MacKay as the server in the diner is endearing, yet demonstrates her sassy side with quick comebacks when the doctor shows what could be construed as a lack of professionalism. Debbie Collins as Rita, Melodee Finlay as Mary Ellen, and Viviana Zarrillo as Vi are all brilliantly funny comedic actors who play off each other perfectly. Reid Janisse as the doctor rounds out the cast with his hilarious performance. The five actors have great chemistry, working together flawlessly.
The set offers an excellent looking diner. Enter the old screen door and you’ll be welcomed to take a seat on a vinyl upholstered chair, around the chrome table – the same chrome sets everyone had in the homes in the late 1950s. The coffee pot is always on behind the counter.
The Orillia Opera House’s production is fast and lively, and the laugh-out-loud moments are frequent. Credit goes to director Jesse Collins for maintaining the quick pace. If you want to laugh, and have your heart warmed before summer is over, go see Halfway There.
Does the handsome doctor stick around in Stewiacke? You’ll have the see the show.
Halfway There continues at the Orillia Opera House in Orillia until September 1. Tickets are available at the OOH box office at 705-326-8011 or online at https://secure1.tixhub.com/orillia-oh/online/index.asp
Photo: Debbie Collins as Rita, Alison MacKay as Janine, Melodee Finlay as Mary Ellen, and Viviana Zarrillo as Vi, Halfway There. Photo by Cole Bennet.
By Norm Foster
Directed by Jesse Collins
Performed by Debbie Collins, Melodee Finlay, Reid Janisse, Alison MacKay, Viviana Zarillo.
Orillia Opera House, Orillia
August 16 to September 1, 2023
Reviewed by Mary Alderson