November 2005

Storm Warning
by Norm Foster

Directed by Chris McHarge | Featuring Phi Bulani & Debra Hale

November 9 – 26, 2005The Walmer Centre TheatreToronto
by Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
Noted Canadian Playwright Norm Foster’s Storm Warning, currently at The Walmer Centre Theatre, is a delightful comedic duet, featuring the talents of actors Phi Bulani and Debra Hale (who just happen to have exquisite onstage chemistry). The story, set in 1953, takes place in an un-named, post-war cottage country location. Phi Bulani plays Jack Forester, a world-weary WW II veteran, who’s hiding out in a run-down cabin, and possibly hiding a secret as well. Phi Bulani’s Jack has a deliciously ironic subtext that percolates beneath his skin, giving his sort of “aw-shucks, M’am” Joel MaCrae persona a rather dangerous and intriguing edge.
Debra Hale is wonderful as Emma Currie, a pill-popping arranger of Big Band music, and an all-around good-time gal. Foster has written a multi-dimensional female character with a profession that would no doubt have been an incredibly rare career choice for a woman in the early 1950’s. Her unusual job gives Emma a spark that propels her in a man’s world, and makes her fascinating to Jack. Ms. Hale has also imbued Emma with spirit, humour, and likeability. It turns out that not all of Emma’s energy and enthusiasm is natural in origin, and the lack of indoor plumbing along with Jack and Emma’s oil and water chemistry, precipitate an emotional storm in which lies the crux of the storyline.
Phi Bulani & Debra Hale

Norm Foster’s dialogue is crisp, captivating and hilarious. With over thirty produced plays to his credit, Foster is a national treasure. His understanding of the rhythmic nature of the interchange of ideas between actors is profound. His style owes something to Neil Simon and perhaps Preston Sturgis. For example, Emma (who resembles a young Barbara Stanwyck) declares at one point that she would be horrified to have eight children: “Eight kids—it’s a vagina, not a PEZ dispenser!”. In the second act, referring to a 1950’s idea of safe sex, Emma says, “I never go near a musician unless his instrument is in a case”. Double-entendres like this and zingers fly fast and furious, as the characters dance their comedic tango, weaving their spell over the audience. The audience instinctively related to these good-hearted and entertaining characters, and as the play moves to it’s eventual conclusion, the audience is literally rooting for the happiness of Jack and Emma.

I have only one, tiny criticism of Storm Warning, and it’s really just an anachronistic error that normally would go un-noticed. The play is set in 1953. At a certain point in the plot, Emma plays some Miles Davis for Jack on her record player (remember those?). Jack recognizes the music, and says “Kind of Blue”, which is the title of one of Miles Davis’ most important recordings as a leader. In fact, the record wasn’t recorded until 1959. The Miles Davis music that was actually playing during the action onstage, also seemed to be from a much later period. This is a minor point, and not meant in any way to impugn the suspension of disbelief, which was, by and large, very easy to fall into, which is an essential element for any period piece.

Director, Chris McHarge has staged Storm Warning brilliantly. The actors seemed to be totally comfortable and natural in their stage environment which became a perfect framework for the characters’ emotional journey. The dynamic repartee, strong plotline, nostalgic aspect of the setting, and tour-de-force performances of the actors add up to an irresistible evening of theatre!

We welcome your comments and feedback
Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
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