by Lynn on August 17, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Mandeville Theatre, Ridley College, 2 Ridley Road, St. Catharines, Ont. Plays until Aug. 20, 2023. Part of the Foster Festival.

Written by Norm Foster

Directed by Lisa Horner

Set by Beckie Morris

Costumes by Alexa Fraser

Lighting by Stacy Graham

Cast: Donna Belleville

Julia Dyan

Catherine McGregor

Zoe O’Connor

Kelly J. Seo

A different kind of play from Norm Foster, but still funny, irreverent, wise, perceptive and full of kindness. A House of Joy ‘servicing’ cowboys in a bygone time.

The Story. Jenny is the efficient, confident, knowledgeable proprietor of Jenny’s House of Joy, a house that gives pleasure to cowboys just off the range, looking for some female companionship and other things.

The ladies who work there are: Frances, jaded, alcoholic, has all but given up; Anita is a bubbly, idealistic young woman who is reading scholarly books because one of her customers suggested it. Anita has dreams of becoming a lady and drinking tea with other ladies. A new woman arrives, Natalie. She is escaping an abusive husband and needs money. Natalie feels the whore house is the place for quick money. Jenny gives Natalie a chance to see if she can fit in.  

The Production. Beckie Morris’s set looks like it is set about 100 years ago in a small town in cowboy country. The furnishings are comfortable. It’s the sitting room where the ladies wait for their customers. A bell announces the customers as they come in the door off to the right.

Frances (Julia Dyan) is always dressed in a white full slip it seems, and she always has a drink in her hand. Her lipstick is smudged. She is careless about her appearance. Julia Dylan plays Frances with sass and a perfect sense of sarcasm. Anita (Kelly J. Seo) is always reading, usually Dostoyevsky from the titles she mentions. Kelly J. Seo plays Anita with a sweetness and a wide-eyed naivety. She is trusting and all she wants is a true friend. Jenny (Catherine McGregor) is beautifully turned out in well-tailored dresses of the time. She is efficient, practical and keeps a close eye on her ladies and their clientele.

The dynamic changes when Natalie (Zoe O’Connor) arrives. Initially she is desperate. Her husband was abusive and she was duped out of her last $45 and needs a job quickly. She takes to ‘the life’ very well, perhaps too well.

One customer is a man who realizes he has a few months to live. He’s long married but comes to Jenny’s whore-house for solace. When the man’s wife, Clara (Donna Belleville) finds out, she comes to ask Jenny for kindness and turn her husband away should he come back. Clara devoted her life to her husband and is hurt that he did not seek comfort from her. Donna Belleville as Clara gives a heartfelt performance of a wounded wife.

Director Lisa Horner has a delicate touch in realizing this smart, funny and wise production. The timing is beautiful. The relationships are wonderfully realized.

Norm Foster is a master of comedy and the funny situation. Jenny’s House of Joy is funny but in a different way. Here he is writing about women in different times of their lives. Clara is the dutiful wife who has devoted her life to her husband. Jenny has no use for that kind of devotion and subjugation. Jenny believes in standing up for herself and making a life as best as one can with the resources she has. Frances has all but given up. She feels there is no where else but the whore house for her. She drinks to forget and doesn’t care the rest of the time. Anita believes that if she reads enough and does not drop her ‘g’s’ at the end of words, she will be taken for a lady. Anita is wonderfully hopeful and disappointed when it doesn’t work out. And Natalie finds her grit when she escapes her abusive husband.

Imagine it, a man has delved deep into the lives and psyches of these women and written a play pulsing with their heart, resolve, and tenacity. His dialogue is right for that time and his speaches especially for Clara are elegant in an old-fashioned way.  But that’s Norm Foster for you—talented, perceptive, creative.

Comment. I just saw Jenny’s House of Joy, hence this late review. It’s worth your time and a trip to Ridley College to see it before it closes soon.

The Foster Festival presents:

Plays until Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

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