Patricia Vanstone, Norm Foster; photo by Pete Paterson

No bells, no whistles, fireworks or special-effects; no farcical plot or outrageous slapstick: how can a play about two people having a “chummy” conversation over a few drinks possibly captivate an entire audience? If it’s a play penned by the prolific Norm Foster, you can bet you are in for an evening of laugh-out-loud entertainment. 

Foster is dubbed as “Canada’s most produced playwright”, not only because he has over 50 plays in his repertoire but because his creations are balanced infusions of wry humour, witty dialogue, substantive characters, and provocative plot lines. 

Norm Foster, Patricia Vanstone in On a First Name Basis
[Norm Foster, Patricia Vanstone]

Theatre K’s production of On a First Name Basis does not disappoint in any of these elements. The comedy follows a vivid exchange between the egocentric novelist, David Kilbride, and his sharp-tongued housekeeper, Lucy Hopperstaad (Patricia Vanstone). Their interpersonal dynamics mimic the relationship of Marvel characters Iron-Man and Pepper Potts, the employer and the employee – but viewers know who the true mastermind is. 

It occurs to Kilbride one evening, that although his housekeeper has catered to his every need, nine hours a day, for 28 years, he knows nearly nothing about her – not even her first name. She, on the other hand, is familiar with every aspect of his successes and failures, whether public or private. Realizing his extreme ignorance, he starts to demand all the minute details of Lucy’s life. Her emphatic protests abate as their conversation advances, albeit fueled by some pricey scotch and a $100 bottle of Chablis. The unrelenting, side-splitting banter generates reciprocally poignant discoveries. 

Patricia Vanstone, Norm Foster
[Patricia Vanstone, Norm Foster]

Foster himself plays Kilbride. It’s such a treat to see him grace the stage, portraying Kilbride exactly the way the character was intended. A seasoned actress, Vanstone has collaborated with Foster on several previous projects. Perhaps that’s why the razor-sharp parley between Kilbride and Hopperstaad were slippery smooth, with pin-prick precision. The onstage chemistry is so robust that their repartee compares to watching a game of championship ping-pong, where the players’ paddles eventually become blurs. 

The script is brimming with intelligent laughs and meaningful social commentary, tainted by each character’s personal realities. This show is enjoyable whether the audience is 27, 47, or 67, as relevant critiques are expounded for all age brackets. The play exposes an underlying universal human need to have someone “bear witness” to our own existence. These kinds of truths are what connects an audience to a Norm Foster play.

This production also shines because Foster and Vanstone are supported by a meticulous creative team, including Christine Reimer, Carol Macdonald, and Geoff Jones. Reimer also recently designed the supremely functional set for Nothing But Sky, while Macdonald’s handiwork is evident at Bard on the Beach and Richmond’s Gateway Theatre. The play is staged in an elegant, cozy drawing room, with well-appointed furnishings, art, and a prominently displayed degree, all combining to subtly scream refinement and pomp. Variations in mood are attained by the gleam and glow of lights designed by the well-travelled Shawn Watson

Exterior on Mathers Avenue, Kay Meek Centre
[Kay Meek Centre; photo credit: Kay Meek Centre, on Flickr]

On a First Name Basis runs for a very limited engagement at the beautiful Kay Meek Centre through May 9. Kay Meek is a gem tucked away at 1700 Mathers, West Vancouver (exit 11 off Hwy 1) and it’s understandable if the community of West Vancouver wants to keep this place a secret. The architecture is a sweeping structure of glass and concrete, reminiscent of a miniature The Centre in the heart of downtown Vancouver. Blonde wood and stainless steel adorn the foyer, where guests can gather for an alcoholic beverage, or wander out to the lush terraced patio deck. Comfortable tiered seats and unparalleled acoustics ensure an optimal viewer experience. 

The astounding array of entertainment and high calibre performances offered at Kay Meek rivals any available downtown – and the parking situation is much better. Be sure to plan a visit soon, if you haven’t already.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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