15 10 2012

STU Reviews

Where Fredericton follows theatre.
Hilda’s Yard: Big yard sale!

by Jordan Wright

Sweet pastels, a checkered suit, and bands with names like “The Penguins.” Put all three together and what do you have? The 1950’s. Add a little Norm Foster with a tinge of schizophrenia, and you have a great production entitled Hilda’s Yard.

Upon entering my seat in the Fredericton Playhouse I am bombarded with sights and sounds reeking of 1950’s nostalgia. In fact, I’m sure that most of the theatre is full of relics from that era, including the audience. It is quite literally a big yard sale, totally sold out, and with just a glance the reasons are clear.

The set itself is something to be praised twice over. Almost instantaneously you are transported back in time to the suburbs of the 1950’s – complete with a rose-coloured fence and tacky lawn animals.  The depth of the set is enough to impress, with the ability for characters to enter and exit from either the top of the fence or the interior of the house. There’s actually never a moment in which your imagination is hindered by characters leaving the stage, as it all breathes so naturally, and absorbs so subtly. Even the backlighting is an atmospheric spectacle, with the background indicating the time of day—whether it’s the fresh morning, golden noon, or hazy evening.

With the return of Norm Foster to Fredericton, it is only fitting that such a good play should make its debut. It is obvious with the quality of this play that his heart was in it from the start. Every character is so unique and charming that it is hard to pick out a favourite. From the surface, each plays a stereotypical character, yet they exceed these roles by introducing original quirks of their own. It seems that everyone has their own equal amount of time in the comedic spotlight, and it’s amazing how well each character balances out the others.

You have the sarcastic yet caring mother, Hilda Fluck (Patricia Vanstone), who ends up being thebrains of the family; the hard working and scruffy father, Sam Fluck (Sam Rosenthal), who’s the symbol of grit and perseverance; and throw in two misfit children, Gary Fluck (Jonathan Gould) and Janey Fluck (Perrie Olthuis), and you have the outline of any number of thirty-year-old sitcoms. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a bad thing, for it really helps to solidify the sense of nostalgia. The remaining characters are what set it off the edge. You have the cool-cat, trombone-playing girlfriend of Gary’s, Bobbi Jakes (Jane Spence), and the friendly neighborhood thug, Beverley Woytowich (Gord Gammie). Add the fact that the children are both dead-end thirty-year-olds trying to move back home, and you receive a clearer picture of the madness that takes place on stage.

This production is a pure joy to watch, and leaves you feeling good in the end. Yet the story is not all frills and fluff. Some dark undertones are lightly graced, which bring about a good sense of reality. Some of these topics consist of the increasing cost of living, physical abuse, post-traumatic stress, and mental illness. As strange as this mixture sounds, the dark undertones are mixed into the comedy almost flawlessly.

By the end of the play – after many great one-liners – you realize that this production was written by a true master.

Patricia Vanstone in TNB’s Hilda’s Yard by Norm Foster. Directed by Caleb Marshall. Photo by André Reinders.

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