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The Last Resort Review

September 20, 2013

Norm Foster has been described as Canada’s Neil Simon. At times like this, I wonder if it isn’t the other way around. Maybe Neil Simon is America’s Norm Foster.

I say “at times like this” because Globe Theatre has launched a brand new season with a wonderful production of The Last Resort, one of Foster’s most popular pieces in a body of work that makes a strong case for him as our country’s preeminent humourist playwright and certainly our most prolific.

This particular piece being a musical, the credit for its success must be shared, of course, with Foster’s collaborator, Leslie Arden, who has achieved a comparable lofty status among Canadian composers and librettists.

When you add Max Reimer to the mix, how could it possibly be anything less than a triumph? Reimer is a highly respected director and choreographer, and he also happens to be an old hand at staging Foster, which virtually ensures that the production not only resounds with the obvious stuff but brings out every last nuance of subtly as well.

The cast features the multiple talents of eight performers (Jacob James, Kevin Aichele, Cailin Stadnyk, Gaelan Beatty, Sarah Higgins, Dawn Bergstrom, Sheldon Davis, Ian Deakin) who work splendidly together as an ensemble in portraying the many and varied idiosyncrasies in a collection of truly eccentric characters.

A satire, The Last Resort has two targets. It is a spoof of the murder mystery genre and it also pokes fun at musical theatre. The stereotypes are ridiculed, the archetypes are praised.

The setting is northern Saskatchewan, specifically a remote tourist lodge that is managed by an elderly female concierge of immigrant extraction (James) whose guests on this noteworthy occasion are an assortment of loveable odd balls.

There is a tattle-tale informant on the run from the mob (Aichele) whose paranoia has him imagining a hit man in every hallway. He is accompanied by a bodyguard, a mildly neurotic FBI agent (Stadnyk).

There is a blustery, knee-slapping carpet salesman (Davis) and his equally boisterous, starved-for-affection wife (Bergstrom), who are celebrating an, ahem, “milestone” 24th-wedding anniversary with a second honeymoon.

There is a poet (Beatty) who considers himself God’s gift to women but is currently suffering from a horrendous and lengthy bout of writer’s block.

There are identical twin sisters (Higgins), polar opposites, to say the least, one being a wholesome, innocent Goody Two Shoes, the other a sexy, evil seductress.

And, finally, it goes without saying, there is a police inspector (Deakin), a stumbling, bumbling detective who ultimately solves the mystery, but not before presenting numerous fanciful, false scenarios and navigating his way through a sea of red herrings.

To reveal the details would be a disservice. You should discover the rest for yourself and I hope you will.

The background stories are supplied in the first half of the show, the mystery is revealed in the second. The pace is brisk, the action flows smoothly, and when you aren’t being entertained by Foster’s hilarious dialogue, you will be enthralled by Arden’s jazzy, bluesy music and lyrics.

Live accompaniment is provided on keyboards by musical director Craig Salkeld, who, truth be told, has the best seat in the house, on stage, along the periphery of the hotel lobby, behind the bar.

Designed by Scott Penner, the costumes and set convey the requisite tackiness, but, with the assistance of lighting designer Siobhan Sleath, this tackiness gives way to an elegance that conjures images of film director Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of the Stephen King novel, The Shining.

Bottom line? Three months ago, Globe Theatre ended the 2012-13 season on a high note with the musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone, and now, three months later, with The Last Resort, things are picking up right where they left off.

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