Bernice (Colleen Simm) and Dolores (Corinne Sutton-Smith) are Stockholm Syndrome-y lifers, amusing themselves by imagining gentlemen callers and rehearsing for tomorrow’s YouTube show. When new arrival Shirley (Martha Breen) blows into town, the three begin scheming — but overseer Alistair (Tyler Morgan, who also wrote the script) is no pushover, and escape will not come easily.
When I read that Morgan “wrote” this story in conversation with his grandmother (who sometimes feels stranded in her own retirement home), everything fell into place: Shady Acres often feels more like a storybook than a play, something Robert Munsch might have come up with. Taken literally, you could drive a wood-panelled Buick Land Yacht through some of the plot holes in this script — but taken as a parable, the whole thing holds up nicely.
And the cast are game for it, too: Breen, as Eileen Brennan, the ringleader, bright-eyed, spry and dangerous; Simm, as Tallulah Bankhead, a faded thespian with a flair for the dramatic and a taste for adulation; and Sutton-Smith, as Gracie Allen, perpetually confused — and delighted about it. They do their best work as a trio, particularly in scenes establishing the rules and routine of the place, complete with twists which would make Munsch proud.
Coming away from it, my only real bone of contention is that the musical numbers feel like a low point: we get competent versions of “Jailhouse Rock” and “Rockin’ Robin”, but there are better options in the jukebox. It feels like there’s more comic potential in, say, having Simm warble a Marlene Deitrich number, or letting Sutton-Smith chew away at something corny and colourful (“Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”?) than in having the girls put on boas and step-touch-step-step back and forth across the stage to Bobby Day.
But that’s me being picky. This show is a confection, warm and sweet and ideal for an evening with friends or family — maybe you’ll even call up your grandmother and see if she’d like a night on the town? (Hey, it can’t be worse than life at Shady Acres!)
- Escape from Shady Acres plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- This venue is barrier-free. Designated accessible seating is in the middle of the auditorium.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Saturday July 6th, 8:15 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 3:00 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 4:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 6:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 12:30 pm
Photo of Colleen Simm, Martha Breen, and Corinne Sutton-Smith by Chloe Ings.