Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Swimming upstream with Trout Stanley

The exquisite cast - photo: Alison Luntz.
Okay, we've been veering more toward the bluntly political of late at the Hub Review (and in the process anticipating posts by Andrew Sullivan and Paul Krugman) - largely because I wasn't all that interested in several of our local season premieres (or rather the shows, rather than the productions themselves, which I'm sure are fine).

So I thought I was safe from any heavy-duty pans (at least until I squeeze my way into Porgy and Bess, if I can), but here I've got the same problem with a fringe show, Claudia Dey's Trout Stanley from Exquisite Corps Theatre.  Actually, this is one of those times I wish I could target separate reviews to separate readerships. One such audience might be composed entirely of casting directors, for instance, and to them I would say -

Calling all casting directors! High-tail it immediately to Trout Stanley, from Exquisite Corps at the Factory Theater, where you will discover not one but three exciting new comic talents you will want to audition immediately!  (I'm not kidding!!)

But then there's the play itself.  And I'm afraid to my audience of script readers and play development types, I'd have to say: - oh well, let's not even go there.  Why not just write the pan yourself, in the inimitably vicious style of Thomas Garvey?  It should include the words "utterly derivative," "John Guare," "Christopher Durang," and "in a broken blender."  Also "too long by half," and other irritated, over-articulate stuff.

Although I was most irritated, I confess, by the chasm between the exquisite cast at Exquisite Corps and their material.  I know there's no real-time relationship between author and actor, but oddly, it feels that way during this performance, as if playwright Claudia Dey were sadistically setting up no-win situations for her stars, who plunge into her deadly pseudo-dramatic contraptions anyway, like the victims in Saw.  The thing is, time and again, they almost make it out alive - they're brilliant, really they are; and at first, when you're feeling forgiving, they do half-convince you the script has some value.  You think to yourself, "Well, that was kind of funny," or "Well, that's not exactly like the last two 'surreal' comedies I saw - maybe there's something here!"  But alas, by the end, you're only praying for the show to end, for the actors' sake as well as your own; you want them to be able to move on to better things as soon as possible.

Still, there are those performances - if I were still on the IRNEs, this small ensemble would be on my short list for an award.  Becky Webber, as the agoraphobic lead, Sugar Ducharme, deploys a delicate welter of tics and insecurities in a performance that's miles beyond what she offered in Opus at the New Rep a year or so ago.  She was almost bested, however, by her co-star, Kathryn Lynch, who is literally a one-woman riot as Sugar's hot-pants-clad, man-roping, trash-collecting twin, Grace (it's typical of this play's obviousness that the white-trash Grace should actually be a trash lady).  Where Webber is all small-scale control, Lynch is a brassy explosion of hormones and who knows what else, and they play off each other like a dream. Meanwhile, as the eponymous Trout, who upsets the none-too-delicate balance of the sisters' lives, newcomer Sean George hasn't come up with quite as much detail or depth - but he's just a natural, trust me, one of those actors whose spontaneous timing can make even this level of forced whimsy kind of work; you're happy to just watch him, minute by minute, and forget about whatever the hell it is he's saying.

There's solid talent on display elsewhere in the production, too.  Director Louisa Richards clearly knows what she's doing, and designers Sean Coté (set), Ian King (lighting), and Bob Mussett (sound) all pull off several tricks on a shoestring. Why these clever folks devoted the last few weeks of their lives to Trout Stanley, I can't imagine; that's probably a solid topic for a truly surreal comedy right there.


  1. Derivative? Fine, you got me. Maybe it is, but I was INTO this play. The characters are memorable; they get in your head, they speak poetically, their sanity is questionable. I love Tennessee Williams, and this is Southern Gothic angst in the middle of Northwest nowhere. If you like messed up, off-kilter media like 'Twin Peaks' and 'Freaks' you will get off on 'Trout Stanley'. Try out this review while you're at it:

  2. Well, to each his or her own, I suppose - but for the record, Trout Stanley was nothing like either Twin Peaks, Freaks, or Tennessee Williams. But I guess it counts as "off kilter media."

  3. Richard Ouzounian's review in Variety, dubbed Trout Stanley 'Yukon Gothic,' how is that not a direct comparison to Williams 'Southern Gothic' style? Both works I compare it to have a dose of ill-defined menace, a strong sense of regionalism, and satisfaction in subculture. You don't have to like this play for what it is, though I'm glad all agree it is an excellent showcase for actors, and maybe this production failed to draw out these qualities, but this is a Gothic drama. One I, and the rest of the small audience, seemed to like.

  4. It's not a Gothic drama. Richard Ouzonian is wrong, as usual. Nor does it have a sense of ill-defined menace, btw - and its "regionalism" feels forced. Okay, it takes satisfaction in its own (totally unconvincing) subculture. But that's it.

  5. Is Anita Gates at the New York Times wrong as well? Because we have another vote for this "deliciously lyrical piece of Canadian Gothic" at

  6. Yup, Ms. Gates seems to actually be more incompetent than Richard Ouzonian (and that's saying something!).

  7. You know, honey, if you don't like tough, accurate criticism, you don't have to read the blog. By all means, read the print press instead!

  8. I just like gibing an uncompromising fool. Clearly you are wrong, if opinion can be wrong, but I'm playing by your rules.
    Oh, and I don't read your blog, I stumbled across your review, I wouldn't subscribe to the opinion of a humorless theater snob who takes himself as loftily ('the blog Harvard doesn't want you to read,' really? No one gives a toss - that's why you're unemployed) as you have come across on this page. I'm done with this. Just loosen up, and don't invalidate opinions other than your own, flexibility is relevancy.

  9. Back off, asshole. You're a clueless stooge with terrible taste. You latch onto pity reviews to validate your stupidity. That's fine behind the closed doors of your tiny mind, but please keep it off my blog. And just btw, I am employed, just in a higher-paying job than theatre reviewing.