Review: The Lady in Shoes From Hell (Shoe Fits Productions)

Everything works in The Lady in Shoes From Hell, now on the Toronto stage

Burke Campbell’s play, The Lady in Shoes From Hell, had its world premiere at Red Sandcastle Theatre on Tuesday evening. It’s a very funny mystery/thriller, complete with car chases and flaming fireballs, set in Texas in the 1950s. I wasn’t sure it could work in such a small space, but it does. It works really well.

Rosemary Doyle is Thelma, a waitress in a small diner on a lonesome highway in west Texas. It’s hot and dusty and no one is stopping. She’s bored and she’s looking for answers, or the answer, to life.

Adam Bonney plays everyone else: the cook, the cowboy, the ticket salesman, the police officer, the shoe salesman, the radio announcer, the psychoanalyst, the army private, the cook.

The cowboy comes into the diner and starts flirting with Thelma, telling her that they’re made for each other and that she should come away with him. She flirts back, but doesn’t really seem interested until he shows her his roll of money and tells her about his pickup truck. They embrace and she stabs him through the heart with a pencil.

And so it begins: Thelma hits the road in the pickup, chased by the police. She eludes them, buys shoes, finds a new lover, kills him, buys shoes, is chased by the police, and again eludes them. She’s a woman with a mission, heading to a destination that she believes holds the answer to her questions.

Doyle uses her voice and her body to portray a languid seductiveness with a mature sexiness that can change in the blink of an eye to disappointment or anger. She’s always alert, planning and calculating, controlling the situation. Her comedic delivery is perfectly deadpan. I particularly loved the scene where the police officer questioned her about the death of her husband as she calmly ate chips and was all wide-eyed innocence.

Bonney was wonderful as all the other characters in the play. His naive ticket seller was perfect: lots of bumbling embarrassment while he pretended to know more than he did, and such a complete contrast to his cocky cowboy.

I really liked the set, too. It started out as a coffee shop with a couple of booths and a counter and then morphed into a bus station, a hotel room, a shoe store, a convertible, a psychiatrist’s office, and the nuclear testing grounds at Los Alamos. Curtains defined areas and hid anything that wasn’t needed.

It was interesting that everything evoked the 1950s without any real 1950 set or props. The atmosphere was set by the music, mostly 50s country, and by the absence of ‘modern’ things. It was as if it was defined by negative space.

Director Robin Haggerty kept the show moving at a pace that seemed to match a hot Texas summer without ever seeming slow. There were delightful contrasts. As Thelma was slowly explaining her sexual needs and her views on men to her husband, she was setting up ropes on the four corners of the bed fairly quickly.

Campbell’s play is very funny, but there an underlying theme of good versus bad running through it. No real lesson there, more of an observation. Nothing heavy handed.

This is a production where everything worked. I really enjoyed The Lady in Shoes From Hell. So did the rest of the audience. People were smiling and laughing as they left, saying things like “That was great”, “Thanks so much for inviting me” and “That was so funny.” I highly recommend that you see it.

Details:

Photo of Rosemary Doyle and Adam Bonney by Burke Campbell

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