nytheatre.com review by Eric Pliner
May 20, 2006
In designer Tim Mackabee's exquisite and nearly perfect set for Claudia Dey's Trout Stanley, the Ducharme sisters' small home is an organized mess of pastel and pop, with board games like "Girl Talk" stacked carefully underneath the bed, neatly-arranged figurines on side tables, and endless rows of Diet Shasta inhabiting the refrigerator shelves. Indeed, the charming but intensely cluttered appeal of the Ducharme cabin serves as an apt metaphor for this production of Trout Stanley, a well-acted and captivating though ultimately overstuffed fable about independence, interdependence, and the nature of love.
Sugar Ducharme (Erika Rolfsrud) and her definitely-not-identical twin sister Grace (Kelly McAndrew) live in a cabin outside of a small (presumably Canadian) town. The day before their 30th birthday is like every other day: ever-confident Grace returns from her job running the town dump, while Sugar acts out her amusing fantasies and prepares Grace's meals (Pop Tarts for breakfast, a roast for dinner—and Diet Shasta accompanying all three). They're a quirky pair: Grace carries a Muppets lunchbox and repeatedly admires her reflection, Fonzie-style, while Sugar has been wearing the same track suit for ten years—one that belonged to their dead mother—and refuses to set foot outside the cabin. Never mind that the two are not, in fact, twins, but two-thirds of a set of triplets, where the third sister was stillborn, leaving behind only the name Angel and a presence that has followed her siblings.
Some good news—Grace is the new billboard model for the town gun shop—promises to improve a nine-year curse that has haunted the girls' birthdays: every year, Grace has come across a dead body, the exact same age as the Ducharme twins, on their birthday. But the curse appears to be back on course when a local stripper / Scrabble champion turns out to have disappeared. Grace warns Sugar not to answer the phone or open the door, but the arrival of a captivating and equally oddball stranger—the titular Trout Stanley (Warren Sulatycky)—convinces her otherwise. And even though Trout Stanley may or may not be the missing stripper/Scrabble champ's murderer (if, indeed, she has been murdered), Sugar falls in mad love at first sight, presenting the first break ever between the Ducharme sisters.
Sound complicated? It is—and that's just the set-up. There's a lot of information to remember, not always in any particular context, but things start to happen once Trout Stanley is in the house and Grace returns home from work to find him with her sister. Still, nothing really happens at all without extensive rumination and endless monologues. That's not always a bad thing, as the missing stripper isn't the only wordsmith in this production; Claudia Dey's gift for language is joyous and often fascinating, but a colleague with a gift for editing would do her—and her work—wonders. The more she muses (via her characters) out loud, the less clear and less enjoyable her work becomes. It's a shame, since the words are often beautiful—but they often aren't necessary or even beneficial.
Her verbosity notwithstanding, Dey has written interesting characters, and the three actors who embody them more than do justice to her words. As the so-called "husband" of the two sisters, Grace Ducharme, Kelly McAndrew struggles the most with Dey's language, reciting rather than acting when the script gets too long-winded. Still, her tough, sharp, and amusing characterization is more charming than not; McAndrew's at her best when she shows off Grace's quirks, like a snap-step-pivot every time she turns around, and an obsession with her outdated hairdo.
As Sugar Ducharme, Erika Rolfsrud fares better, capturing the integrated joy and confusion of a shut-in with imagination and innocence in a nuanced performance that is worthy of attention. She manifests a range of emotion and a depth of understanding that are rare in a single performance, keeping up nicely with Warren Sulatycky's far more experienced Trout Stanley. Indeed, Sulatycky is a revelation, the sort of oddly-handsome actor who seems to be a cross between many, less-deservedly famous movie stars, and who manages to imbue his performance with a realness and depth that are truly captivating.
Still, these compelling performances and a quirky set (enhanced by Caitlin O'Connor and Elizabeth Coleman's excellent costumes and Tse Wei Lim's terrific lighting) aren't enough to save this show. Jen Wineman's direction is outstanding in its best moments, and downright frustrating in its worst. For a play with so meticulously-designed an environment (all the way down to an outdoor "garden hose"—prominently displayed around the Astroturf lawn but never used), the choice to have actors mime an absent door (when they remember that it's supposed to be there) is ill-advised. The choice is presumably in service of the decision to stage the production in the round, which is equally ill-advised, as it contributes more distraction than enhancement to the story. Furthering the distraction is the use of an irritating underscore, employed at moments that make Trout Stanley seem more like a made-for-TV melodrama than an unusual fable. (On the other hand, use of '80s pop songs to contextualize the tone and characters' mindset works perfectly.)
During those moments when seemingly endless monologues take over, punctuated by droning sound effects, it is difficult to remember what is enjoyable and clever about Trout Stanley. But only a little bit later, when the actors show moments of true brilliance or Dey's language seems lyrical or poetic, it is impossible to imagine not liking Trout Stanley. And while Dey makes it clear in her story which Ducharme sister wins out (between the strong-willed Grace and house-bound innocent Sugar), the audience doesn't have it quite so easy.