Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

doris and ivy

Doris And Ivy In The Home At Drayton Entertainment

Doris and Ivy in the Home by Norm Foster is destined to be one of Drayton Entertainment’s biggest hits this season if the reaction of the packed house at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse is anything to go by.

If you saw Foster’s 2015 piece, Jonas and Barry in the Home, you might be tempted to think that Doris and Ivy is a cut-and-paste job of recycling, rather like those all-female productions of The Odd Couple that crop up from time to time. Not so.

Jonas and Barry concerned the unlikely friendship between two men at an assisted living facility. It blended Foster’s trademark wit and merriment with a very real undercurrent of sadness.

Doris and Ivy in the Home is a very different play and, to my mind, a superior one.

There are similarities. There are two very different women, Doris Mooney (Valerie Boyle), a newcomer, and Ivy Hoffbauer (Elva Mai Hoover), a settled-in resident of the Paradise Village retirement home. The setting is virtually identical – the back terrace of the facility – a handsome set by Beckie Morris nicely lit by Jeff JohnstonCollins.

But there are important differences. The tone of Doris and Ivy is resolutely upbeat and there are plenty of laughs. The third party to this three-hander is Arthur Beech (Rob McClure), a dapper retired college professor whose bowel cancer diagnosis has not dampened his spirits and his hopes for finding love.

Doris spent her career as a correctional officer in a prison and the rough edges are on full display. The more demure Ivy, on the other hand, is a once-famous skier who, thanks to a spectacular accident became an object of ridicule and fled her native Austria to seek anonymity in Alberta where Paradise Valley is located.

Alas for Ivy, Doris remembers the long ago incident and has turned the name Hoffbauer into a verb. “To Hoffbauer” is to screw things up royally.

Dr. Beech (he has a PhD) is sweet on Ivy and is pursuing her with great charm and good humor. The thrice divorced Ivy, whose exes were all “losers,” has put all thought of romance in the rear view mirror. She agrees that she will be there when Arthur dies – his doctors have given him two years to live – but lets him know that love is out of the question.

The roads down which Foster leads his characters are perhaps somewhat predictable but Foster, being Foster, never descends to cliché or soap operatic formulas. The three characters are richly human and lovingly observed.

In Doris, Foster has created one of his greatest comic characters and Boyle takes the opportunity handed to her and, to use one of her frequent sports metaphors, knocks it out of the park. She is blessed with a body seemingly designed for this kind of comedy. A scene in which the still svelte Ivy tries to coach her through an exercise class is one of the play’s funniest set pieces. But her lack of physical allure doesn’t seem to have dampened her interest in sex and her raunchy bumps and grinds when the topic arises have the audience in convulsions. This is a masterful performance.

Needless to say, Hoover has competition on the stage but she holds her own quite nicely and makes the unlikely but steadily growing friendship between Doris and Ivy utterly believable.

As the charming and smart-dressing Arthur (Joanna Lee provided just-right costumes for all the characters) McClure is spot on. I last saw him in full farce meltdown mode in Drayton’s It Runs in the Family. In Doris and Ivy he calmly occupies the opposite end of the spectrum.

Director David Nairn is obviously familiar with this territory – he once played Barry in Foster’s Jonas and Barry in the Home! – and he conducts the proceedings with a light touch.

Doris and Ivy in the Home is perfect light entertainment for those seeking relief from the high-brow fare at Shaw and Stratford. The laughs are plentiful and theatergoers in the twilight of life, in other words just about everyone who goes to the theatre these days, will find Foster’s light touch in dealing with the realities of aging refreshing.

Doris and Ivy in the Home continues at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse through July 6, 2024. It transfers to the Huron Country Playhouse from July 11 to July 28, 2024. For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Drayton Entertainment website.

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