Claudia Dey’s Trout Stanley revels in whimsy and artifice. It presents an absurdist world where people exist as fleshy metaphors, their lives an embodiment of the ideas they represent. Factory Theatre’s production captures the quirky humour and salty poetry of Dey’s classic of Canadian Gothic.
Two sisters, Sugar and Grace Ducharme, have barricaded themselves against the outside world. Since loosing a third twin in the womb and, eventually, their parents, Sugar and Grace Ducharme have been 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.
I’ve seen Sugar played with a more adult, jittery eccentricity, but Shakura Dickson hones in on her childlike playfulness and wonder. Absurdly dressed in the velour tracksuit her mother died in, she’s warm, quirky and vulnerable.
With her bouffant hair and sexy camo outfit, Grace is brassy and confident. Natasha Mumba wears her exaggerated appearance like a suit of armour. She sees herself as a fierce protector of the fragile and innocent Sugar, though we later see the desperation beneath her warrior-like demeanour.
In drops the mysterious Trout Stanley, a long-haired and bearded man in a stolen cop uniform. Fortuitously, he happens upon the distraught Sugar at a crucial moment. Though the murdered women that loom in the background of the story cast him as a potential threat, his bright-eyed and guileless charisma quickly wins over both Sugar and the audience.
As Trout, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff is wildly sensual and endearingly awkward. As if high on some substance that keeps his mind sharp and his body elastic, he bounds and scampers and rants. He’s got an absurdly tragicomic backstory that echoes the sisters’ history and, when he reveals it, his pain and rage is palpable.
In the production’s aesthetic and performance style, Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu strikes that perfect balance between real and fanciful. Her stylized transitional sequences—where time slows and reality warps—are particularly emotive and hypnotic and give us a glimpse into the sisters’ psyche.
Shannon Lea Doyle’s set, though absolutely stunning to behold, doesn’t feel particularly lived-in. I couldn’t find those nuanced details that reveal the history of a place. This may be due, in part, to the performers’ relationship to it. There was a slight lack of comfort with the environment—moments when the actors maneuver awkwardly around furniture, making it feel more like a set than a home.
A critic once remarked: “Tom Robbins writes like Dolly Parton looks.” Trout Stanley reminds me of Tom Robbins—where things feel a little cheap and silly at first, but the giddy and cartoony antics hold achingly real human truths. Otu and her cast appreciate this duality and convey it masterfully in the play’s heartfelt finale.