Trout Stanley

Written in a style best described as "Yukon Gothic," poet-turned-playwright Claudia Dey's new black comedy, "Trout Stanley," is an appealingly offbeat three-hander with limited prospects for mainstream success but will likely generate strong interest on the regional and alternative circuit.

Written in a style best described as “Yukon Gothic,” poet-turned-playwright Claudia Dey’s new black comedy, “Trout Stanley,” is an appealingly offbeat three-hander with limited prospects for mainstream success but will likely generate strong interest on the regional and alternative circuit.

Dey first broke into theater with the 2000 piece “Beaver,” similar in style to her current work. It was crucified by Toronto critics, although a subsequent production at New York’s Horse Trade Theater Group drew some good reviews. Her next work, 2002’s “The Gwendolyn Poems,” was decidedly different: an impressionistic view of the life and works of CanLit idol Gwendolyn McEwan. This one earned critical as well as popular success.

But now with “Trout Stanley,” Dey is back in the bush, writing about life in the northernmost reaches of British Columbia, “between Misery Junction and Grizzly Alley.” In a remote mountain hut, she introduces us to a pair of whacked-out twin sisters, not at all identical.

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Sugar (Melody Johnson) is a whining, sniveling cipher who still wears the pink track suit her mother died in 10 years ago, while Grace (Michelle Giroux) is all miniskirts, rodeo boots and teased hair.

As the play begins, it’s their 30th birthday and the TV news is announcing the disappearance of a local “Scrabble-champ stripper,” one of a series of young women who’ve vanished on their birthdays for the past decade, although no one seems to have noticed.

Grace goes off to work at the local dump (which she owns), leaving Sugar alone when a strange, dark, bearded drifter sneaks up to the house. He proves to be Trout Stanley (Gord Rand), who’s searching for the lake where his petty-thief parents drowned after abandoning him years ago.

What follows is a surreal riff on a predictable plotline. Trout falls in love with Sugar, and Grace tries to steal him away. There’s some pretty tame sex and a bout of far more convincing bondage before everything finally works out in the end, with some characters achieving a glorious salvation.

Dey has written the whole thing in a word-drunk style that takes the rhythms of the far north (she worked there for eight summers) and bends them to her will. “I hate normal and I’m pretty sure normal hates me,” says one character, and that could serve as the playwright’s motto.

Nothing in the script could be confused with naturalistic speech, although it’s built on turns of phrase and repetitions that somehow still ring true. Grace, for example, describes herself as “red-hot and blue balls at the same time,” which is very apt.

The production on view by Eda Holmes is surprisingly naturalistic, which ultimately doesn’t help Dey’s writing. Her epic, metaphoric view of love, loss and redemption in the frozen wasteland needs more than the kitchen sink to make it soar.

Thesps fill the outlines of their roles perfectly. Stratford Festival leading lady Giroux is a Shania Twain-esque knockout as Grace, quirky local comedy icon Johnson is a daffy Sugar, and playwright-actor Rand makes a mysterious Trout. They all fail, however, to take the play to the next level where it could soar.

Part Coen brothers, part Sam Shepard and yet somehow unique, “Trout Stanley” could provide an exciting showcase for a virtuoso director and three fearless actors. This trout has legs.

Trout Stanley

Factory Theater, Toronto; 200 seats; C$34 $28 Top

  • Production: A Factory Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Claudia Dey. Directed by Eda Holmes.
  • Crew: Set and costumes, Kelly Wolf; lighting, Andrea Lundy. Opened, reviewed Jan. 8, 2005. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.
  • Cast: Sugar - Melody Johnson Grace - Michelle Giroux Trout - Gord Rand
  • Music By: