January 2005

Trout Stanley

Written by Claudia Dey Directed by Eda Holmes

January 4 – February 13, 2005 Factory Theatre Toronto
There is no curtain, so the audience gets to look past the missing fourth wall into the set of Claudia Dey’s certain-to-be-a-big-hit play, Trout Stanley. The couple next to me say something like, “It looks like our old kitchen.” I know what they mean. The stage represents the inside of a rustic cabin. In the back corner of stage left are an avocado fridge and stove, and forward from that is a grey-marbled Formica tubular stainless kitchen table and four matching chairs, right out of the fifties. Center stage is a single sofa facing a 12” TV with it’s back to the audience. Behind them are three doors: one turns out to be the bathroom; one, a plain green door turns out to be the bedroom of the Ducharme twins, Graceland and Sugar Cereal. The third door, which is golden and highly ornamented with male and female images such as you find on washroom doors, as well as bride and groom imagery contains the ‘shrine’—the bedroom of the holies, the holy mother and holy father, parents deceased these ten years. On ledges all around the cabin are a multitude of tiny dolls and figurines. We’ve been listening to loud country girl singers. The music stops, the lights go out, we hear the harsh sound of ravens at sunset, and see the shadowy form of a woman kneeling in front of the stove, only her face lit by the oven light.
This woman, who turns out to be Sugar Ducharme, the red-haired twin who is the stay-at-home-wife of her brunette sister Grace, puts a scratchy Vinyl on the portable and begins her birthday ritual rockabilly evening dance. Guffaws of pleasure erupt in patches of the house at her predictable, gawky moves. Looks like we are going to enjoy this play. And we do. It’s built out of elements of farce, domestic drama, dark comedy, and naïve romance. Whatever makes you tense, such as when Sugar tries to hang herself from a joist, also seems absurd and funny. Whatever makes you laugh, also has a dark side, such as when a shotgun goes off accidentally and shoots the roast.

Script (Claudia Dey), Direction (Eda Holmes), Set and Costume (Kelly Wolfe), Lighting (Andrea Lundy) and Sound (Rick Sacks) are inventive, wakeful, frequently brilliant, and best of all, work together seamlessly to reinforce the dramatic thrust of the whole production. What is the thrust? That in lives built on a garbage heap, in the wake of a history of disasters, the promise of love, romantic and familial, comes true. The production also explores the related irony—the ties that bind us, literally, tie us up, while the forces that invade us, and seem to threaten us, may well be liberating.

Claudia Dey’s use of language, well known for it’s ‘poetic’ tenor, has a way of getting references to everyday things to resound at a cosmic level. This technique reinforces the overall ‘ironic’ effect of the play. She accomplishes this through ritualizing the speech of her characters in a few ways. The missing parents are always and only referred to as the ‘holies’, or the ‘holy father’ and ‘holy mother’ in ordinary discourse. The missing woman is always spoken of as the ‘missing stripper and scrabble champion’. As characters tell and retell parts of their life stories they tend to repeat phrases and whole sentences from previous tellings as though talking about oneself were a ritual, which, I agree, it is. Many speeches are built on repetition of an opening phrase, such as “A man with a soul secretly wishes for…” or, “Love makes us…”—and the blank is filled quite a few times.

Supporting this ritualistic use of language is ritualistic behaviour. Trout Stanley, Sugar’s suitor, has a foot-fetish—he sniffs slippers—never lies, and has a bit of a drinking problem. Sugar, who used to whisper “I love you” to everyone she ever said goodbye to, now hasn’t left her house in ten years, wears her holy mother’s track suit every day, makes lunch for Grace every morning, greets her coming home with the same phrases, spends her time making little tragic figurines to commemorate the things that go wrong in her life. And there is a litany of place-names, persons, events, and activities (The Dump, The Billboard, The Lion-Queen, The Birdbabies, The Way of the Snail), which through frequent and constant repetition become iconic and make what they refer to stand out against a larger, more philosophical background.

Other aspects of the production are well thought out to support this direction. The set never changes— scene changes are signaled, intriguingly, by going to dark and by sound effects; the unforgettable costumes never change, unless, as in ritual drama, characters change inwardly. The direction as far as pacing of dialogue is brilliant, and many scenes remain entire in the mind, particularly the farcical home invasion. Not enough can be said about the acting, which is uniformly excellent. Michelle Giroux, sexy and menacing as the “Lion Queen of the Dump”; Gord Rand, appealing, smiling and sincere as the barefoot intruder with the fish-name, and the emotionally versatile Melody A. Johnson who goes from domestic to suicidal to amorous and then some, all present without flaw to my mind.

The only difficult moment I had with the production came, surprise, surprise, around the ending of it. There is a moment of resolution that isn’t satisfying, but so absolute that the audience applauded, only to be offered another, really final scene—a totally happy ending. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but, it is as if the resolution had no shadow, as if it did not contain the seeds of it’s own undoing. That is not quite consistent with the whole thrust of the play. But, that aside, the audience, myself included, gave an ovation, and left feeling fine.

Stanley Fefferman for The Live Music Report
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