It’s a shame I wasn’t able to catch The Rocky Mountain Special until late in the run. This phantasmagorical musical road-trip solo show, presented by Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, is bursting wit and insight. Creator/performer Tiffany Thomas has such an easy and affable vibe, you could miss the trees (of carefully considered details) for the forest (of her disarming and persuasive persona).
The way she rises and sinks with her hand clasped to a vintage microphone, flicks a mimed cigarette and grinds it with her heel—she never oversells any of these gestural quirks, but they help ground us when things get really trippy. And the nonchalant way she reaches for her guitar makes the singing of anecdotes the most natural form of delivery.
Based on her own experiences as a trans woman, Thomas’ alter ego Tommy finds herself on the road (and on the run) with an elderly version of herself. This future self goes by the name Zach. Rough around the edges, a raspy voice that betrays years of hard knocks, Zach is wise and quippy. Tommy, though her persona is more gentle and hesitant, has the gumption to hold her own in the presence of this potentially intimidating older self.
After hijacking a bus (on which they are the only passengers), they wrestle with their differences and similarities while in search of ancestors. Along the way, they find themself/ves. This odyssey is set in the future, in the aftermath of a war that had broken out in Canada over “fiscal and ideological differences” (a phrase that still makes me chuckle).
Zach’s heartfelt story about being generously accepted into an Indigenous community after incorrectly identifying as Cree is genuine and resonant. The appropriation of someone else’s struggle, the search for identity and purposeful connection, the alienation and displacement of feeling removed from your roots—these are potent themes the show handles with elegance and vulnerability.
The story’s timeline is somewhat muddled, but that adds to its dreamlike quality. At 90 minutes, it starts to feel a little tiresome at the hour-mark, but Thomas’ presence is warm and endearing enough to keep us engaged even when the sense of urgency gets diluted.
Production designer Anna Dalgleish’s aesthetic has a whimsical, makeshift charm. A lone bus seat at the front of the stage is our focal point and a forced perspective set of yellow road markings reaching up into the rafters suggests the stretch of highway that guides Zach/Tommy’s journey. The folksy musical numbers with their country-rock flavour are a good mix of funny, poignant and haunting. Lyrically, Thomas has a knack for fusing the mundane and sublime.