By Diva Heather Boa
GRAND BEND – You know that type of book that’s really slow to start while the plot gets laid down and then suddenly you’re hooked, awake until way past your bedtime reading to see how it will all end?
That’s kind of like Hilda’s Yard, which opened at Huron Country Playhouse II on Friday night. It’s typical Norm Foster work, with over-the-top characters with gratuitous accents, a litany of jokes that could have been ended with a little drum roll (for example, there’s a drawn out discussion about the disadvantages of having the last name “Fluck”) and a setting that needs the dust blown off – in this case, it’s 1956 even though the play was published in 2012. Norm Foster fans should love this play.
By the end of the first act, the play was just a nice little summer diversion; a story about aging empty nesters looking forward to nights in front of the new television set and perhaps a little hanky panky whenever it suited them, when their plans are derailed by their two children, who unexpectedly move back home. We’ve met all of the family in the backyard setting, including: the matriarch Hilda Fluck (played by Patti Allan), a pragmatic and strong-willed housewife who talks over the fence to her long-time friend Mrs. Lindstrom, who we never see; the reliable patriarch Sam Fluck (played by Brian Linds), whose modest dream of owning a television set causes him to take personal time from work; the sweet schemer son Gary Fluck (played by Alan Kliffer), who is still traumatized by the desk job he held during the war and can’t keep a job, even as a pizza delivery man; and the spoiled daughter Janey Fluck (played by Ella Simon), who has left her husband and wants to pursue a career in a travel agency. And thrown into the mix were Bobbi Jakes (played by Steffi DiDomenicantonio), who is Gary’s flamboyant girlfriend in a costume reminiscent of a stereotypical French artist, right down to the black beret; and Beverly Woytowich (played by Brad Austin), a philosophical bookie.
It’s no small feat that director Mark DuMez hasn’t sent these characters right over the top. After all, it’s encouraged by the playwright.
But somewhere into the second act, true to form of a play written by Canadian Norm Foster, it got real as all the strings laid out in the first act started to pull together. The play shifted from being a nice little comedy to being an exploration love, work ethics, mental illness and domestic violence. Suddenly, the nice little comedy earned respect from the audience, and it reached that place where you really and truly could have heard a pin drop. One particularly chauvinistic line from the family patriarch, Sam Fluck (played by Brian Linds) drew a collective reprimand from the audience. Not what you expect in a comedy. Within 30 seconds, he’d said something else that had people laughing and the show went on.
Even though the set is the 1950s, with costumes that include clothespin apron, saddle shoes, greaser jeans and bowling shirt and discussion about WWII and television sets, the family dynamics are timeless. Who of us with siblings hasn’t stuck our tongue out or tried to take a jab from time to time? What adult child hasn’t scored beer and sandwiches from the fridge? What parent hasn’t had a moment when he or she felt the children never grew up?
Hilda’s Yard runs until July 29. Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.