Act One could stand a trim, but once its cast of characters get together for post-intermission cocktails, Norm Foster’s Renovations For Six ends up among the Canadian comedy master’s most rewarding creations … and a terrifically acted Theatre 40 gem to boot.
A series of interlocking scenes introduce us to Foster’s three pairs of married protagonists.
Grant and Shayna Perkins (Lane Compton and Rebecca Driscoll) have abandoned big-city life for his promotion to furniture store manager, leaving pilates/yoga instructor Shayna to tag along in hopes of opening her own studio one day.
In the meantime, what better way could there be for the 30something couple to make new friends than for them each to invite one person they know (along with his or her spouse) for drinks, appetizers, and chitchat?
Grant opts for his store’s senior salesman Wing Falterman (David Hunt Stafford), whose ex-hoofer wife Billie (Gail Johnston) would like nothing better than for her retirement-age husband to join her in entertaining the seniors’-circuit crowd.
Shayna picks 50something book-club acquaintance/psychiatrist Veronica Dunn-Dudet (Mona Lee Wylde), whose husband Maurice Dudet (Martin Thompson) has left a high-paying job as an engineer to pursue a career in writing, though the way things are going with his freshman novel, Veronica wonders if they’ll ever be a two-income family again.
Alternating (and occasionally overlapping) scenes give us glimpses into each couple’s lives.
While stoking her husband’s fears that tonight’s invitation might be just a pretext for Grant to give him the heave-ho, Billie keeps finding ways to avoid answering Wing’s questions regarding an affair she may or may not have had some thirty years ago. (“Still not a denial,” is Wing’s much-repeated refrain.)
Veronica, meanwhile, wonders why her grown son Graham can’t just be satisfied talking to his dad without Mom having to join the conversation, and Shayna worries that the magic has gone out of her marriage despite Grant’s pride in his talent for “short sex.” (“I have to be prepared right out of the chute,” he boasts.)
Along the way, playwright Foster plants seeds that will flower post-intermission in the most unexpected of ways, including Veronica’s concern that bringing up their son at the party could “open a can of worms” and Grant’s recent acquisition of a certain turn of phrase.
Despite an under-two-hour running time, Renovation For Six’s first act could easily be cut in half, the better to speed us toward its second act payoff.
There can be absolutely no quibbling, however, about TV sitcom vet Howard Storm’s snappy direction or his fabulous Theatre 40 ensemble.
The casting of classic Hollywood leading man-type Compton as an instantly likable Grant opposite quirky ingenue Driscoll proves a stroke of genius; Stafford (a fuddy-duddy hoot) and Johnston (think Judy Holiday meets Thelma Ritter) score laughs galore in roles they were born to play; and Thompson’s amusingly stuffed-shirt Maurice and Wylde’s deliciously dry Veronica are every bit as splendid. (As a bonus, a trio of dramatic monologs give Driscoll, Stafford, and Wylde even more opportunity to impress.)
Jeff G. Rack’s ingenious set superimposes the living areas of three different homes in mid-renovation disarray, while Michèle Young’s spot-on costumes, Brandon Baruch’s subtly effective lighting, and Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s expert sound design complete the American Premiere’s all-around Grade-A production design.
Renovations For Six is produced by Stafford. Don Solosan is stage manager. Roger K. Weiss is assistant director.
Since 2012’s The Long Weekend, Theatre 40 has become Norm Foster’s American home-away-from-home, introducing U.S. audiences (or at the very least those within driving distance of Beverly Hills) to our neighbor-up-north’s answer to Neil Simon.
No matter its need for some judicious pruning, by the time Foster’s latest reaches the most satisfying of epilogues, you’ll be glad you made reservations for Renovations For Six.