On a First Name Basis

Getting to Know You

The Orillia Opera House’s Professional Theatre company will go down in history as the first theatre to reopen in Ontario after closing for the pandemic.  But lest you think the pandemic is over in Orillia and everything’s back to normal, you have another think coming. We followed all the face mask and distancing rules. 

We went to see the Orillia Opera House’s (OOH) production of On a First Name Basis, and adhered to all their Covid-19 policies.  It was wonderful to be back in a theatre, and for more about our evening in Orillia, please click here. 

On a First Name Basis is a charming comedy by Canada’s most prolific playwright, Norm Foster.  It’s a two-hander, and in typical Foster style, the two characters battle back and forth with sassy, witty dialogue.   

David Killbride and Lucy Hopperstaad have known each other for 28 years, ever since she came to work as his housekeeper.  They have always called each other Mr. Killbride and Miss Hopperstaad.  He is a writer with many popular spy novels published, but seems to be having writer’s block.  She has worked for him through all three of his ex-wives and until this specific evening, he has not paid any attention to her.  Suddenly, he decides they should get to know each other. 

She is very uncomfortable and just wants to go home, but he keeps offering her drinks.  He is pretentious and condescending while she is sarcastic and sassy, which makes for snappy conversation. 

It is not likely to end well when a boss and employee think they will become “chums” by having a truthful, revealing talk, fueled by alcohol.  But you will have to see this play to see how the second act unravels. 

Viviana Zarrillo is brilliant as Miss Hopperstaad.  She starts off as very defensive, putting up a wall with her cheeky responses.  Later, the scotch takes effect and she lets down her guard and her true vulnerability shows.  Zarrillo is adept at taking us on that ride with the character. 

At first, Jesse Collins gives us a snobby character, reminiscent of the old TV show, Frasier.  Collins’ Mr. Killbride lacks substance but likes to put on airs.  Like Frasier, his self-aggrandisement eventually blows up in his face.  He claims to listen to classical music, but when Miss Hopperstaad turns on his stereo, we hear the Monkees singing “Daydream Believer”. 

This is a two-person show with constant conversation.  Credit goes to both stars for the copious lines they have to deliver while keeping the laughs coming.  The two actors have great chemistry, which makes sense when you find out they are a couple in real life.  Being in the same bubble during the pandemic makes it much easier to share the stage.  Collins is the artistic director at OOH and also directed this show.  The pair became engaged last year, but have had to postpone wedding plans due to Covid. 

What makes On a First Name Basis so enjoyable is not just the many laughs while watching a pair of actors with superb comedic timing.  It’s the touching, poignant conclusion to this story.  I had to wipe away a tear or two.  And that’s all I can tell you about it without spoiling the plot. 

If you’ve been longing for a return to the theatre, then make the trip to Orillia.  You have a week to get there. 

On A First Name Basis continues at the Orillia Opera House in Orillia until September 4.  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: Viviana Zarrillo and Jesse Collins as Lucy and David in On a First Name Basis.  Photo by Cole Bennett of Portage Creative.

On a First Name Basis
By Norm Foster
Directed by Jesse Collins
Performed by Jesse Collins and Viviana Zarrillo .
Produced by Orillia Opera House Professional Theatre Series
Orillia Opera House, Orillia
August 19 to September 4, 2020
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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