An offbeat romantic comedy like Claudia Dey’s “Trout Stanley” can get away with fanciful elements of style such as a fairy-tale story, childlike characters and flights of poetic lyricism. But overdosing on these eccentricities destroys their charm. Canadian scribe is already skating close to the edge with her whimsical tale of twin sisters whose bizarre way of life is threatened by a strange man who finds his way to their secluded cabin in the backwoods of British Columbia. But a clunky production by Renaissant Arts unwittingly parodies the material by turning the mysterious events in the lives of these fey sisters into the desperate antics of kooky sitcom characters.
It’s hard to identify the exact moment when Dey jumps the shark in spinning her weird tale about twins Sugar and Grace Ducharme, who live in a cabin at the edge of town in Tumbler Ridge, midway between Misery Junction and Grizzly Alley.
The sisters are observing their 30th birthday, toasting their parents (who freakishly died on the same day 10 years ago), mourning their dead sister (who never made it alive out of the birth canal) and hoping that this year, for a change, no murdered girl will turn up on their doorstep to mar the celebration of their birth.
Grace (Kelly McAndrew) is the outgoing twin, the one with the bodacious bod and enough brassy sex appeal to pose for a billboard ad for Stan’s Western Gear & Shooting Range. She supports the household by shoveling garbage at the town dump and makes no apologies for that. The stink of garbage is the stink of humanity, she says, and being Queen of the Dump makes her the chronicler of her dying town’s history of humanity.
“I’m the one who knows the stories,” Grace says, “the one who knows what’s happened.”
Sugar (Erika Rolfsrud) is the recluse who has been living in her dead mother’s filthy sweatsuit for the past decade and never leaves the house. She’s also the morbid one who consults medical textbooks of “human malformation” for the porcelain figurines she makes.
“She’s an easy target,” Grace says of her sister. “She’s the perfect prey.”
Having dedicated her life to protecting Sugar from the faceless killer who seems to be prowling these woods, Grace is beside herself when a stranger by the name of Trout Stanley (Warren Sulatycky) shows up at the cabin while she’s at work and sweeps Sugar off her feet with romantic declarations of instant love.
“I believe in kissing — for weeks at a time,” says Trout, who initiates Grace into a style of lovemaking that he compares to two snails copulating in the mud. It’s enough to send Sugar into a swoon but upsets Grace and any members of the audience still alert enough to remember that another girl has gone missing and a serial killer may be on the loose.
However intriguing, these Sam Shepard touches are not fully integrated into the story. Dey remains far more attached to the romantic dynamic between Sugar and Trout, and to Grace’s desperate efforts — a la D.H. Lawrence story “The Fox” — to pry the lovers apart. While the playwright does resolve the murder mystery, she assigns little craft and less poetry to the job.
Sulatycky, artistic director of Renaissant Arts, applies some subtlety to the role of Trout, managing to suggest this clumsy Romeo may, indeed, have a more sinister side to his country bumpkin persona. But Grace and Sugar get no such help from McAndrew and Rolfsrud, who play the twins entirely on their eccentric surfaces, grinding away at the softer edges of their characters and finding no poetry in their quirky dialogue.
The lack of grace in the perfs is entirely in keeping with the literalness of helmer Jen Wineman’s direction, which approaches each scene with an air of comic desperation. Both set and costumes are entirely over the top, cluttered with the same superficial detail (and lack of reflection) that mars the performances.
Dey is hardly one for moderation. Her quirky Gothic vision and poetic language both implode from self-indulgent overkill. But this playwright does have an interesting voice that is much appreciated in her native Canada. Her oddball piece was a palpable hit there, preeming at the Ships Company in Nova Scotia before transferring to the Factory Theater in Toronto.
Who knows? In some future production, we may even get to hear that voice for ourselves.