“Silly and sublime” Trout Stanley takes to the stage at the Storefront Theatre in Toronto
A critic once wrote, “Tom Robbins writes like Dolly Parton looks,” and I think this applies to Claudia Dey’s Trout Stanley. On the surface, it’s over-the-top, goofy and little bit cheap, but I was charmed by the spectacle. And as I sat there, giggling and shaking my head, I began to realize that the characters and their world meant more to me than I expected.
Currently playing at the Storefront Theatre, Severely Jazzed Productions tackles this wacky and poetic tale of two sisters who have barricaded themselves against the outside world. Since loosing a third twin in the womb and, eventually, their parents, Sugar and Grace Ducharme seem cursed by death. Holed up in their tiny house beside a garbage dump and plagued by news reports of murdered local women, they’ve created their own morbid mythology to make sense if it all.
Director Daniel Pagett is clearly inspired by the offbeat text and has given it the highly stylized treatment. Hanna Puley’s stark, generic set leaves a great deal to our imaginations. All of the objects that define their domestic life are bland and colourless, with labels indicating their purpose (cylinders marked as “soda” and boxes marked as “food”). While this gimmick is often played for laughs, it also serves an important thematic purpose by intensifying their isolation and the manufactured quality of their reality.
The performances are equally stylized. These characters are all going through the motions indicated by The Storyteller, and the overall effect is cartoonish.
As the narrating Storyteller, Dan Jeannotte brings a giddy intensity to this potentially irritating device and I found myself frequently smiling at his endearing antics. Oddly enough, he’s the most realistic presence and helps to ground everything until the emotional core of the action starts to surface.
I found Hannah Spear’s jittery Sugar the most consistently believable character. Despite the exaggerated performance style, she managed, in every single moment, to convey something vibrant and vulnerable amidst all the affected dramatics. Poor Sugar, wearing the tracksuit her mother died in ten years before. She’s warm and playful, but crippled by nervous ticks.
Grace is on the opposite end of the sibling spectrum. With coiffed, cotton candy hair and a sexy cammo outfit, she’s brassy and overbearing. In the capable hands of Tess Degenstein, her exaggerated appearance becomes a suit of armour. She sees herself as a fierce protector of the fragile and innocent Sugar.
Along comes Trout Stanley, a mysterious bearded man in a cop uniform who happens upon the distraught Sugar at a crucial moment. He’s got an absurdly tragic backstory that echoes the sisters’ history. At first, his character seems an awkward weirdo, but Colin Munch finds a way to reveal his charm and sensuality before the script makes it explicit. When his rage bubbles up, there’s a deeply unsettling fire in his haunted eyes.
As this damaged yet optimistic stranger shakes up the sisters’ lives, secrets are revealed, their reality is shattered, then rebuilt…and life goes on.
The play goes to some dark places, but the journey is chock full of charm and whimsy. Underneath it all, I felt this: as long as there is life—be it strange and terrifying—there is hope.
I thoroughly enjoyed this production, as did my guest. There were a few head scratching moments for us, but they were minor. What’s up with the dude in the audience who’s a TV? Why is that table not white like everything else in their home? When a show is so stylized and everything seems to mean (or suggest) something, the littlest thing can seem incongruous.
Trout Stanley is silly and sublime, with just enough heart to give you the feels.
- Trout Stanley plays until June 6 at The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM, with Saturday/Sunday matinees at 2PM
- Tickets are $15 to $25
- Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.
Image designed by Meags Fitzgerald