Former ATV Live At Five Host Delivers Knockout Portrayal In Antigonish
     

By Ron Foley-Macdonald Halifax Daily News

July 6, 2004
 

One of this summer's great theatrical surprises--and pleasures--is the knockout performance by former ATV Live At Five host Nancy Regan in Norm Foster's Storm Warning, the first play of Festival Antigonish's busy summer theatre schedule. Regan, who has been working hard to transform herself from a teleprompter-reading TV personality to a genuine actress over the last few years, runs away with her role as a quirky chart-writing musical arranger in the two-hander play, set in 1953.

Coming off a difficult wintertime role at Neptune theatre where she played an unsympathetic sibling in the over-rated, Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Proof--and forced to be in the shadows of minor character from the TV series MASH who had an easy, three-scene walk-on part--Regan has clearly grown as an actress. Paired against the Festival Antigonish veteran Wally MacKinnon, Nancy Regan has found the the perfect theatrical vehicle for her vivacious charms. One of the things about being an artist--and particularly an actor--is knowing your limitations and your strengths.

Storm Warning's female role is just about perfect for someone like Nancy Regan. Blessed with good looks and a sharp mind, she's someone who might be easily dismissed as a lightweight. Storm Warning's Emma, however, is a character who can cruise along for only so long on her quick intelligence and surface appeal. Beneath the superficial exterior, Emma contains a whole universe of needs and desires that demand substantial fleshing out by a real flesh and blood actress.

It helps, of course, that Norm Foster wrote such a convincing character in the first place. Foster, the most produced playwright in the country--I counted 85 productions for 2004 in Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, information found on his web site--excels at writing contemporary stories about real people with everyday problems. Stories about simple loneliness, friendship, and life changes make him popular with many audiences in the English speaking world. Strangely enough, the theatrical establishment likes to ignore Norm Foster. He's never been produced professionally in Halifax; you'll hardly ever find reviews of his work in the Toronto Globe and Mail or the National Post. His work, to my mind, is not studied in universities. Because he doesn't write 'socially useful' or 'politically correct' work, he draws a blank when it comes to the publicly subsidized English Speaking theatre in Canada. So why is Norm Foster so popular? Why does he strike such a chord with average-Joe-and-Josephine audiences who actually pay real money to enjoy his more than thirty plays? The answer is direct and simple. Norm Foster is the best dramatist in the country. He's the equal of America's Neil Simon and Britain's Alan Ayckbourn. If the theatrical establishment is too ignorant to realize this fact, then it's their loss.

Meanwhile, Foster's talent gets celebrated by theatres that are consistently off the mainstream such as Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre (FAST). Outgoing FAST Artistic Direct Addy Doucette has produced many Norm Foster plays, even premiering a couple with the author in attendance. Until a few years ago, Foster lived relatively close by in Fredericton, New Brunswick where he worked as as morning wake-up DJ on a local commercial station. A couple of years ago he retired back to Ontario because he could, for the first time, make a living off of his playwriting royalties. Foster's ability to write plays that appeal to contemporary audiences seems to get more and more skilled.

Storm Warning, which premiered last summer in Ontario, is a case in point. Perfectly scaled--two performers, a simple interior/exterior set--the play is beautifully written, with terrific lines and a will they/won't they sexual tension that builds neatly up to the play's climax. The story is elegantly simple. A sassy, independent woman lands in a remote East Coast lakeside resort for a late season weekend to finish some big band arrangements. It's 1953, and her kind of flighty female strength would seem to be a decade or two ahead of its time. Foster compensates by making her work--and life--entirely plausible. It's one of the author's great talents to meld his character's life and work together, so that they never seem like shallow 'types' or 'ideals'; they almost always seem like real people.

The only other occupant is the caretaker, Jack, who is a melancholy and stoic war vet with a looming set of memories and regrets. It doesn't take long for this oil-and-water mixture to start interacting, and Foster's deft writing brings the play quickly to life. While Wally MacKinnon's Jack holds his own against Nancy Regan's Emma, it is the former broadcaster who must initiate and animate most of the action. Swearing like a sailor and wearing--for 1953, anyways--some revealing outfits, Regan more than manages to make you believe that her brassy exterior is a front for a woman who is teetering on the edge of despair and hopelessness. It's a risky performance. Too much confidence and Emma would just be a pushy bore. Too little and she'd be reduced to being just a romantic foil for Jack, who himself is damaged goods.

While Foster's writing makes the pair believable and attractive, it is Nancy Regan and Wally MacKinnon who make the duo compelling. Audiences, of course, will pine for a happy ending where the two incomplete characters--who seemed to have been left behind by the mainstream--will come together. Foster coyly keeps everyone guessing right up to the very end. I'm not going to spoil the surprise. To find out what happens I heartily recommend you check out Storm Warning yourself. You won't be disappointed; it's a terrific production.