The Hamilton Player’s Guild likely have a hit on their hands with their production of Norm Foster’s Skin Flick. The cast are funny, the script very clever, and sexual tension and skimpy costume abound. What follows likely won’t hurt ticket sales in the slightest. Heck, some controversy might even help.
Criticizing a theatre professional is a hell of a lot easier than being one, but believe me the difference in earnings is commensurate. If financial success is a true and reliable indicator of a person’s worth, then Norm Foster — often described as Canada’s most produced playwright — is a better man than I am, by a good long margin.
I want to like Norm Foster on the grounds of national pride, artistic camaraderie, and simple human respect, but I’d be dishonest if I called myself a fan.
Norm Foster is kind of the Tim Hortons of theatre; he’s sweet and popular, and thriving fiscally, but don’t think too hard about whether the employees make a living wage, if the farmers got paid well, the mysterious addictive chemicals, or the obesity epidemic.
Nothing is ever seriously wrong in Fosterland, and in the case of Skin Flick, your middle aged Mom and Dad next door deciding to hire actors and shoot porn in their bedroom as a response to economic crisis is good clean fun.
Canadians like to think of ourselves as good clean people, don’t we? Either I’m growing up, or we’re getting uglier. What does it say about us that our most popular playwright is allowed to say so little of consequence?
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Foster? “Significance? Meaning? Cut it!”... he was joking, at his own expense, and the quote is a paraphrase, but it’s telling. Actors say “dying is easy, comedy is hard”, but for Foster, as a writer, I think it’s the other way around.
We Canadians are paving our home and Native land so we can pimp out Mother Nature to the Americans and keep a few more Albertans in workboots for a couple of years (screw their grandkids, the buck is to be had now!). Our mining companies plunder the resources of foreign lands under the cloak of a reputation for humanitarianism earned abroad by the work of good men like Lester B. Pearson and Joe Clarke.
And Norm Foster writes the sweetest, funniest, apology for sexual exploitation since Pretty Woman. I liked Pretty Woman… when I was fifteen years old. The eighties are long gone, however. Pornography of dubious quality and corrosive ethics is available on every laptop, not at the back of the video store or wrapped in brown paper on a high shelf.
I have seen things in my life, and lives of dear friends, that indicate to me at least some pornography isn’t good clean fun, and sexual dysfunction is definitely not a funny thing. But every audience member brings their own history into the theatre. (Parents of young women, please, please be sure they understand they are very very unlikely to meet the love of their life on their first porn shoot, Ok? Ok!)
I laughed really really hard at the Skin Flick rehearsal I saw. I always laugh at Foster. He’s a really funny guy, and a masterful hand at the manipulation of comic tension. This cast have grasped his rhythms really well. Sex is a comedy goldmine worked since Aristophanes. This is a juicy Boston Creme and a Double Double, no doubt about it.
Norm Foster seems like an ordinary guy, who made good. That wouldn’t normally bother me, but we live in extraordinarily difficult times, and it feels frighteningly like we just aren’t making the curve to stay out of the ditch, in so many ways.
Mr. Foster does offer insight within the bounds of his trademark repartee and situation comedy, and the Guild Production may miss the emotional nuance in their search for comedy gold. The word intimacy is heard once or twice, between the gags. There’s a wonderful statement to be made about the power of eye contact to create intimacy, but that good intention, at least in this case, is drowned out by ironic laughter about the degradation of women, and the men who profit by it.
Foster speaks of and to middle Canadians, but that’s why the opportunity is so frustratingly, even dangerously, lost here. He breezily touches on examining the commodification of sexuality, but it feels perilously like he’s normalizing exploitation of something sacred for yuks. Maybe sanctity is passe. I remember a guy in the church I grew up in who said our actions reveal what we really worship whether we acknowledge we are worshipping or not.
This play says nothing of how families are really affected by use of pornography, or the performers, or single users relying on it to the exclusion of real relationship. It touches on the entitlement, expectations and delusions propagated by this billions, if not trillions a year industry, but almost in passing. Lives and families are destroyed more often than we realize. Tiger Woods, at least, could access treatment. Many cannot. If that’s not being said, it’s worrisome.
People need to laugh, and will laugh often and hard at the Guild’s production of Skin Flick. Not every playwright is Tennessee Williams, thank goodness, so by all means go laugh. Please remember that there are people who can’t laugh at this. And if you can’t laugh, please know there are wonderful resources available today that weren’t in Williams’ day, and asking for help when you need it is wise and brave.
If you want some uncomplicated belly laughs and titillation, Skin Flick is a Valentine’s feast. I have some trouble digesting it, personally. But I don’t drink caffeine, either. V
Feb. 7–8, 13–15, 20–22
@ Hamilton Players Guild,
80 Queen S.