Anton Chekhov famously said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off”. Norm Foster took this to heart in his delightful 1997 comedy, Office Hours. A Week at a Glance book is mentioned in the first scene (and in almost every subsequent scene) and, sure enough, the pushy Week at a Glance salesman turns up in the final scene. Ditto for a racehorse which dropped dead on the track, a guy on a ledge threatening to jump, and a steamy romance novel by Margo Kenyon.
Each of the six scenes is set in a different office in an unidentified Canadian city (Vancouver? Toronto?). The first is the office of a vapid TV news producer, the next is the office of a pair of small-time film producers, then the office of a literary agent (one of whose clients is the famous Margo Kenyon), then of a gay entertainment lawyer who hasn’t yet “come out” to his parents, then of a tough racetrack manager, and lastly of a whiny self-centred psychiatrist. The superb set (designed by Anthony Neary and built by Alf McCabe) coupled with the gorgeous lighting (also designed by Neary) and very smooth stage management, transport the audience from one office to the next.
The stories told in each office intersect in amusing, sometimes surprising ways. Most of the characters appear in multiple offices, either in person or by being mentioned.
In all, 8 actors play 15 characters. They are typical Norm Foster characters… “ordinary people just trying to get by in life”, to quote Foster. I particularly enjoyed Joel Rahn as the bibulous over-the-hill Hollywood director, Bobby Holland, who is pitching a ridiculous faux-Tarzan film to the film producers while assiduously draining their supply of Scotch. Barbara Stiles is terrifying – and just the right side of caricature – as the domineering wife and mother, Rhonda Penny. Harold Swaffield as the cheating husband, Mark Young, is a convincing adulterer, trying to weasel out of his guilt when his wife confronts him with incriminating photos of two dalliances (one in the back seat of a Pontiac Grand Prix. How Canadian – making out in a Pontiac!)
Judging by my guest’s reaction, there are at least three laugh-out-loud moments in each of the offices. My personal favourites were the ones with the Hollywood director and the film producers. One of the director’s famous films was Steps in the Alley, a film noir about the Mob infiltrating professional bowling… and “Who knew Sean Connery could bowl?!” The hero of the film that the director is pitching is Trevor, the Duke of the Jungle (not Tarzan, the King of the Apes). As we expect from Foster, the play is sprinkled with many funny lines. The guy on the ledge? “Someone is threatening to jump? This close to rush hour? Some people have no consideration!” There are some nice jabs at CanCon, too: “You’re an entertainment lawyer in Canada? Well, there’s a duck that won’t float!” And when the salesman is bemoaning his connubial problems, he says, “If sex were the Olympics, I’d be Paraguay.” Not every line elicits laughter, but enough do to deliver a very enjoyable evening of community theatre.
And I’ll never look at a Pontiac Grand Prix the same way again.
Phoenix Players’ production of Norm Foster’s Office Hours is playing at The Gladstone Theatre until November 25. The performance starts at 7:30pm and is approximately 130 minutes long, including one 20-minute intermission. Information and tickets at available at online and at The Gladstone’s box office.