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Plenty of laughs figuring out retirement

Fred (Brian Otto) and Marty (Joe Brenner) pick up brand new hobbies such as woodworking to fill the void left by retirement in the ETC production of A Red Plaid Shirt. [Veronica Reiner]

The newest offering from the Elmira Theatre Company follows the comedic journey of two couples that step into a new chapter of their lives after retirement.

But just what exactly does one do when employment no longer claims more than a third of the day? That’s precisely what’s explored in A Red Plaid Shirt by the late playwright Michael G. Wilmot.

Marty, played by ETC veteran Joe Brenner, has just retired from working as a school teacher for 35 years. As the role was a core part of his identity, the uncertainty about how to spend his newfound time drives him up the wall. Along for the ride is his wife, Deb, played by experienced community theatre actor Kristine Fortner.

Marty truly wants to buy a Harley Davidson. Fearing for his safety, Deb encourages him to take a woodworking class as a more reasonable option instead.

Brenner said he drew on his own experience to get into the role, including talking to retired friends.

“Once upon a time, I shared a story early on that my wife was on maternity leave … I run a window-washing business, so I’m not very busy in the winter,” said Brenner.

“This was a long time ago. I remember her one day saying to me, ‘Don’t you have someplace to go?’ Which made me think of how my wife in the play is feeling … ‘just do something!’”

Joining them in the journey is the couple’s old friends, Fred (Brian Otto) and his wife Gladys (ETC founding member Chris Grose). Fred has spent his newfound time watching countless television medical shows, which led him to become a hypochondriac. Gladys coaxes him into taking the woodworking class with Marty.

“It’s about love in a way … the guys are both lost. It’s very sitcom-like that,” explained Brenner. “The wives are the logical ones, and the guys are the doofuses. They do a ridiculous thing in the middle of the play.

“But it’s love that keeps them together. Love and humour, really.”

Every actor on stage brings decades of experience to the table, which is sure to reflect in their performances. The comedy is described as family entertainment, accessible to audiences of all ages. Producer Bev Dietrich and Brenner were in agreement that just about anyone could find themselves relating to the play.

“That’s basically what the play is about – it’s a journey to another change, another stage in your life,” said Dietrich. “I’m sure most people in our audience will be able to relate to it one way or another. Especially because our audiences tend to be older. Either people have retired or are thinking about retirement.”

Trish Starodub laid the foundation for the show, but had to step down from the role of director along the way. In true community theatre style, other members of ETC stepped in to fine tune the production, and it will be all ready for tomorrow’s (Friday) opening night. The show is sure to get audiences laughing and thinking (or re-thinking) about retirement.

The ETC production of A Red Plaid Shirt offers dinner and show-only options. Show-only performances run November 1, 7 and 15 at 8 p.m. For the dinner-and-show option, performances take place November 2, 9 and 16 at 7 p.m., and November 3 and 10 at 1:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20 (show only) or $60 with the dinner option, available at KW Tickets by calling 1-800-265-8977 or 519-578-1570 or in person at Centre In The Square box office at 101 Queen St. N., Kitchener.

Alternatively, tickets can be purchased online.

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