Hilda’s Yard tackles tough topics with humour
By Jenn Watt
Published Aug. 10, 2017
People aren’t usually what they seem on the surface. The frustrated housewife has more than laundry to worry about; the factory worker puts in a lifetime of labour for little reward; the thug has a kind heart under the bravado.
Hilda’s Yard, written by Norm Foster and playing at the Highlands Summer Festival Thursday, Aug. 10, and Friday, Aug. 11, explores the lives of what at first appear caricatures of a 1950s household: a married couple preparing to be happy empty-nesters and two adult children who can’t get it together. But add two outsiders to the mix and the depths of each character become more apparent.
In the program, director Terri Hawkes writes that “each character in Hilda’s Yard shows a willingness to change – to increase awareness and acceptance of oneself, working through discomfort in the quest for personal growth” and it does seem that as time goes on, the tough exteriors of each character melt away to reveal something more vulnerable and real underneath.
The play opens with Hilda Fluck (played by Beth Kipping) chatting with her neighbour as she hangs the laundry. She muses at the positive changes she’s expecting with her children Gary (Stephen Thayer) and Janey (Janice Kiteley) off on their own.
It’s now time for her and her husband Sam (Brian Kipping) to enjoy the quiet life in their empty home – complete with a new Zenith television set.
The play is set in the Flucks’ backyard, which features a white fence, white chairs and white roses.
Their life appears to be as wholesome as their backyard, complete with Sam’s solid employment of 27 years at a paper company and Hilda’s reign of the home. That is, until their kids announce they're moving back home – and bringing more than a few complications with them.
Among those complications, Bobbi Jakes (played by Brittany Rae Robinson) Gary’s new girlfriend, and Beverly Woytowich (Lucas Mayhew) a bookie looking to get his money back from Gary.
Bobbi is a beatnik, more relaxed in her sexuality and accustomed to sloughing off social norms. Her introduction to the family comes when she hops the fence into the backyard and wraps Gary in a tight romantic embrace.
Beverly is a gangster, white fedora in hand, hair slicked back, who arrives at the Flucks’ home with shady intentions, but is quickly subdued by the warm assertive nature of Hilda.
The issues of the 1950s are somewhat uncomfortable to watch as an audience member, but thanks to interjections of humour, the tough discussions of mental health issues, domestic violence and changing romantic relationships, are made easier to handle.
In particular, a woman’s place in society and her role in the household play heavily beneath most of the plot, though that's not always immediately apparent.
Janey, for example, first appears a slightly loopy, incredibly lazy adult daughter, unwilling to do housework and lamenting her role in the home. But as time passes, the audience learns her situation is much more complicated.
Despite dealing with some heavy subject matter, the play is surprisingly light in tone. There are several laugh-out-loud performances peppered through the play and nods to popular culture of the time from I Love Lucy and Gun Smoke to James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
You can see Hilda’s Yard on Thursday, Aug. 10, and Friday, Aug. 11, at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion in Haliburton. Shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and are available at the door, by calling 705-457-9933, 1-855-457-9933, or going online to highlandssummerfestival.on.ca.