Photos: Orillia Opera House
LuxuryOrillia Contributor Andrew Wagner-Chazalon catches a performance of Old Love at the Orillia Opera House… check it out!
Summer theatre is usually regarded as light. Carefree. Frothy, even. You don’t expect summer theatre to bring up existential questions, like “what is the best way to live your life?”, even if it does it with a steady pulse of laughter.
But that’s exactly what Old Love by Norm Foster does. Which makes it the perfect show to mark the long-awaited return of live theatre.
After more than a year of ongoing pandemic, many of us have been wrestling with questions of purpose, meaning, and values. And we’re also all in desperate need of the things that only live theatre can provide: not just laughter and tears, but those incandescent moments when we share those things with a room full of strangers, a hundred or a thousand of us all laughing or weeping or holding our breath in tension at the same time.
This production of Old Love scratches both of those itches, and many more besides.
Old Love Never Ever Dies
On the surface, Old Love is the story of one man’s obsession. For 25 years, Bud has loved Molly from afar. They’ve only met a handful of times, and she remembers none of them. But he has each encounter seared into his brain and can’t stop thinking of her.
But Bud also thinks of himself as being profoundly moral, one of the good guys who wouldn’t dream of approaching another man’s wife. Even when his own marriage dissolves, Bud waits. Until Molly’s husband dies, and Bud sees his chance to win her at last.
Molly, too, has been waiting. But she just doesn’t know it, much less know what she’s been waiting for. Her life has been dutiful but wasted. And it takes Bud’s strangeness and passion to awaken the bravery, adventurism, and love of life that the accretion of years has buried deep within. It’s Molly’s journey that really explores the questions of life’s meaning, as well as asking when it’s too late to start again.
The Cast Truly Shine
The play is Norm Foster at his best – funny, thoughtful, and often both at the same time. And director Jesse Collins has found a truly marvelous cast to bring it to life.
Melanie Janzen is truly unforgettable as Molly, Ben’s ex-wife Kitty, and all the other female roles. She brings vivacity, sparkle, and energy to the stage in everything she does, demonstrating why she has been a presence on Canadian stages for years (her credits include seven seasons at Stratford, Ontario, five seasons at Shaw, and dozens of other productions.)
Her hard-edged charisma is perfectly matched by Brian Young, who plays all the male roles with charm, warmth, and a quirky grace. As Ben, he embodies hope and relentless optimism, a soft rubber ball who bounces relentlessly off Molly’s brick wall and keeps coming back for more. As Molly’s husband, Arthur, he turns that optimistic energy into arrogance and pride; as their son Arthur Junior, he is passive and bewildered.
The non-linear nature of the play means that both Young and Janzen need to switch roles constantly, sometimes barely ending a scene as one character before morphing into another, jumping back and forth in time, lowering the fourth wall to narrate the action to the audience then raising it again. Both actors make this feat look effortless, one character vanishing before our eyes as another takes their place.
Play a ‘Must-see’ in Orillia
Collins has designed a minimalist set which works superbly well. One side of the stage is dressed in mid-century modern panels and furnishings that serve as offices, restaurants and more, the actors often repositioning set elements while delivering lines.
The other side of the stage is clad in draperies that suggest organic, open spaces. Claude Labreque’s lighting enhances the design beautifully, setting the visual tone for each scene with subtle shifts (and one very memorable big shift in the final scene).
To present this play, the Orillia Opera House is taking full advantage of their unique building. Rather than playing in the intimate 100-seat studio theatre, the play is presented in the enormous and historic 600-plus seat Gordon Lightfoot Auditorium. The space allows a good-sized audience to gather while remaining distanced.
And all of it works to delightful effect. We may be masked and sitting six or more feet apart, but at long last we are all gathered together again, sharing the magic of theatre as we watch two master performers at their craft.
Old Love runs until Friday, September 3. Visit the Orillia Opera House website for further details and ticket info.
Thinking of making a weekend of it, or perhaps a mid-week getaway? Check out our list of the top hotels and resorts in Orillia, all within easy reach (and sometimes walking distance) of Orillia Opera House.
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is the managing editor and CEO of Dockside Publishing, and writes about the luxuries to be found in Muskoka and throughout Central Ontario.
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