The census tells us that Canada is one of the world’s most urbanized countries but you’d never know it from our TV comedies. Trailer Park Boys, Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie are the mirrors we hold up to ourselves. The hicks from the sticks in these shows are our national alter egos. They embody what we like to think of as our essential innocence yet let us laugh by virtue of our superior sophistication.
Playwright Claudia Dey does something similar on the stage. In Beaver, produced last year at Presentation House, and now in Ruby Slippers Theatre’s Trout Stanley, she depicts the small-town Canadian North as one weird place where tough but vulnerable women and messed-up men play out their lives as Gothic farce. Think Trailer Park Girls meets Fargo.
Sugar (Lois Anderson) and Grace (Colleen Wheeler) are twin sisters living in a cabin on the outskirts of Tumbler Ridge. Big, tough Grace calls herself the Lion Queen. She works in the garbage dump and models for the local gun shop. Its motto: Look out deer, Look out moose, We got rifles, And we’re lookin’ for youse!
Agoraphobic little Sugar hasn’t changed her clothes or left the house in ten years since the death of their parents. She sums up her life in the play’s peculiar poetry: “I’ve been a tumbleweed rolling down my own highway wishin’ for a head-on.”
Every year on their birthday some young woman mysteriously dies. Today is their 30th and a local stripper—also a Scrabble champ—has gone missing.
Into their strange lives, like some bedraggled hound dog, comes an even stranger man. Trout Stanley (Jonathon Young) has his own bizarre, hilarious stories about his life, his dead parents, his unborn twin, and how snails make love.
But is he telling the truth when he says he never lies? Could he be the Scrabble champ stripper’s killer? Does he really love Sugar or does he just want to drink her booze, sex her, and sniff her slippers?
Young is phenomenal in the title role, combining lithe, feral physicality with a deadpan look and whirlwind narrative style that manages to maintain clarity and nuance even at top speed. Anderson also rocks as the small-town girl who has suffered from being “peculiar” but is now ready to bust out and live. Wheeler is powerful and funny but a little cartoonish as Grace.
Director Diane Brown mostly pulls off the tricky balance between Dey’s sweet, goofy characters and ridiculously dense plot. Tim Matheson’s gorgeous video projections of the great Northern outdoors almost make you want to leave that Yaletown condo for… But nah.