Claudia Dey's remarkable new play, Trout Stanley, chronicles the lives of twin sisters in the timeless search for love, surrounded by the debilitating presence of grief. Dey's story, delivered in a quirky kind of poetic style, is simple yet riveting.
The twins, who look nothing alike, reside in a small B.C. town: Grace runs the local dump, and Sugar hasn't left the house since their parents' death ten years before. The play takes place on the twins' thirtieth birthday, the day that heralds the arrival of Trout Stanley, a drifter searching for the death-place of both of his parents somewhere in northern B.C. The surprising love affair that results provides a catalyst for the healing of the grief that is deeply embedded in all three characters.
The line between the poetic and the obscure is one that Dey courageously traverses but not always, alas, successfully. Characters often appear to speak with the voice of the playwright rather than that of the character. Although the reader may admire the cleverness and artistry of the writer, we are distanced from the world of the play. I assume the effect is not intentional, but rather a dramaturgical flaw, arising perhaps from a certain self-indulgence on the part of the playwright. However, this does not diminish either our enjoyment of these characters, or the pathos and power of the story.
The play might be classified as realism with an absurdist bent âe" the sometimes startling and iconoclastic language of the work is matched by its intriguing and bizarre story. Yet the very absurdity of the characters, setting and plot somehow leads to a generally believable experience.
A typical example of Dey's style is apparent in the self-description of Sugar:
Ever since I was young, I've been so full o' love. I'd go to the store to get a popsicle or gum or a comic book an' Stella behin' the counter would say, 'Bye Sugar. Have a good day.' An' I'd say, 'You too Stella. (whispers) I love you' âe¦ Always under my breath. No one could hear it. It was a secret. It was a million secrets.
The lines are poignant and strange, and they speak volumes about the haunted inner life of the character.
The playtext is illustrated by Jason Logan, providing a visual sense of Dey's creative process and some touchstones for the events and themes of the play. The drawings are whimsical, sometimes confusing and often amusing, but I'm not sure what they add to the experience of reading the work. They do not form any connection to the performance of the text (although they may be a device that is proffered to assist a prospective directorial concept) and are perhaps simply related examples of the stream-of-consciousness process that Dey's artistry evokes.
Trout Stanley was first performed at Ship's Company Theatre in Parrsboro, N.S. in 2004, and then went on to become part of the Factory Theatre's 2005 season in Toronto. Factory has become something of a home base for Dey, having developed and produced her first two plays, Beaver and The Gwendolyn Poems, there. A graduate of McGill University and the National Theatre School (where she now works as a guest artist), Dey is both a Governor General's Award nominee and a Trillium Award Finalist in 2002 for Gwendolyn Poems. She is librettist for the upcoming Handless Maiden working with composer Wende Bartley, and is currently writing a novella.
Clearly this is a playwright of immense talent, creativity and imagination. The only question I offer is whether such cleverness always serves the characters and the play, rather than simply the ideas of the playwright.âe" Laurel Smith
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