Norm Foster’s Bedtime Stories consists of six playlets, four of which should have been left to gather dust in the playwright’s bottom drawer.
There’s a variability in quality here. And that places a hard-working cast at something of a disadvantage in Ottawa Little Theatre’s current summer production of this frequently produced Foster piece.
But there remains enough here to show this prolific Canadian playwright’s genuine merits. He has a gift for funny, observant glimpses into contemporary life. He also — when he puts his mind to it — can examine human relationships with genuine poignancy. Both these qualities are on display in Bedtime Stories.
But Foster also has a weakness for the kind of sophomoric humour that can quickly wear out its welcome. In Bedtime Stories, the playlets are linked in three basic ways.
First of all there’s an interconnection — of sorts — between the characters.
Secondly, all the playlets have a bedroom setting, which is fair enough given the title — Britain’s Alan Ayckbourn did something similar with his omnibus piece, Bedroom Farce, albeit far more successfully.
Thirdly, all of these mini-plays assume there’s something hilarious about the recorded sounds of a couple having sex. This becomes a recurring, increasingly tiresome motif as the evening progresses.
The sex bit stems from the opening playlet in which middle-aged couple, Betsy and Lou, can’t afford to send their daughter to university, so in return for $5,000 they agree to have sex in a hotel room while radio deejay Eddie supplies an on-air description of what’s happening. But Betsy and Lou — she in a fluffy bathrobe, he in sober pyjamas — aren’t quite the sex machines Eddie envisages.
Foster’s set-up for this scene is frankly preposterous. Erin McNamara and Bill Milner wring some humour out of the spectacle of this unbelievably cement-brained couple, and Christopher Torti is appropriately agitated as the DJ who sees his plans for an evening of radio porn fizzle. But the main problem: Foster has set up a comic situation with no real pay-off.
It happens again in a sequence involving Torti and Milner as a pair of bumbling burglars — two actors managing some comic chemistry in the face of a sagging script. There is promise in a comic vignette involving McNamara as an accident-prone stripper and Torti as her good-hearted club manager. But the scene as written becomes laboured and dribbles inconclusively to its close — thereby defeating both director Brian Cano and his performers.
However, two sequences do work beautifully — and this is because Foster’s writing shows strengths not evident elsewhere in the evening.
In the first instance, we have Tina Prud’homme and Christopher Glen bringing a rueful honesty and a sense of missed opportunities to an encounter between a dying man and the woman he adored in high school. This little play is fully rounded, with a genuine arc. The same can be said of a second, genuinely funny character piece involving Glen as an aging punk rocker and Prud’homme as the breathless groupie who wants to spend the night with him.
The evening boasts some solid production values — including a credible but flexible set design from Patti Vopni and excellent lighting from Frank Donato. But Bedtime Stories still evokes the Curate’s Egg — good only in parts.
Bedtime Stories by Norm Foster
Ottawa Little Theatre to Aug. 1
Director: Brian Cano
Sets: Patti Vopni
Lighting: Frank Donato
Sound: Bradford MacKinlay
Costumes: Glynis Ellens
Eddie/Nick/Charlie: Christopher Torti
Betsy/Sandy/Yolanda: Erin McNamara
Lou/Davey/Jerry: Bill Milner
Derek/Tommy/Steve: Christopher Glen
Susan/Melody/Laura: Tina Prud’homme