SUMMER OF MY AMAZING LUCK
(This is Jerry's review of the 2006 production).
The best novel I read this summer was Miriam Toew’s A Complicated Kindness, and one of the best shows I saw last year was Chris Craddock’s BoyGroove. So when I heard that Toew’s first novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck, had been adapted for the stage by Craddock, I was pretty excited. Sure enough, the script is funny and smart. And Stephane Kirkland’s Shameless Hussy production is an absolute delight.
Like A Complicated Kindness, this is a young woman’s story. Sweet, ingenuous Lucy (Renée Iaci) is a single teenage mom. Her direct address to the audience segues seamlessly into dialogue with her mother (Thomas Jones) and father (Daune Campbell)—the cross-gender casting works beautifully—her best friend Lish (Campbell again) at the Winnipeg housing project where they live, and thirty other characters, all played in clever, lightning-quick changes by Campbell and Jones.
Lucy got herself pregnant during a bout of promiscuity after her mother’s sudden, horrible death. Leaving her ineffectual father, she finds herself and her baby son Dill on welfare, in public housing, at the mercy of an obnoxious, condescending bureaucracy and the judgmental gaze of the better-off.
The play continually reminds us of the indignities suffered by welfare mothers but it never preaches or whines. Lucy’s pollyanna-ish resilience sees her through every difficulty: she can face the overbearing bureaucrat at the welfare office by telling herself, “He’s water, I’m a duck’s back.” Lish is take-no-prisoners feisty, and Toews tends to see the comical side of almost everything. “Life is not a joke,” Lucy reminds us, “but it is funny.”
The story is jam-packed with a few too many comical incidents, colourful characters like Singh Dhillon (they call him Sing because he sings … Dylan), and some darker notes. Lucy tells us about Sarah, the incest-survivor whose kid is taken away by social services. “Isn’t that the saddest story you ever heard?” she asks. And it is.
There’s also Gotcha the clown, who loved and left Lish. The hilarious road trip Lucy, Lish and their kids take to find him occupies much of the second act, which also deals with Lucy’s unresolved grief for her mother, her relationships with her father and her maybe-boyfriend the lawyer, and much more. These all figure in the chaotic, upbeat ending that explains the title.
The three versatile actors are simply terrific and director Kirkland finds a smart new device for every scene to up the comic ante and keep the action swirling around Lance Cardinal’s functional set, with huge help from Stephen Bulat’s witty sound design.
Shameless Hussy’s mission is “telling provocative stories about women to inspire the hand that rocks the cradle to rock the world.” Mission accomplished, hussies. This one definitely rocks.