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Natasha Mumba and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff in Trout Stanley at the Factory Theatre.

JOSEPH HOWARTH

  • Trout Stanley
  • Written by Claudia Dey
  • Genre Comedy
  • Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu
  • Actors Shakura Dickson, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff and Natasha Mumba
  • Company and Venue Factory Theatre
  • City Toronto
  • Runs to Sunday, Nov. 10

rating

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu is one of Toronto’s most exciting young directors. I was mightily impressed with her accomplished Soulpepper production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2018 and blown away again by her creative staging of The Brothers Size, also at Soulpepper, last spring. So it goes without saying that I was eager to see what she’d do for the revival of Trout Stanley at Factory Theatre this season.

She doesn’t disappoint. Playwright-turned-novelist Claudia Dey’s freaky comedy-thriller, first produced at Factory in 2005, may not be in the same dramatic league as those other plays, but Tindyebwa Otu and her lively cast hook onto its slippery, fish-like eloquence and ride it for all it’s worth.

We’re in tiny Tumbler Ridge, B.C., at the cozy home of the orphaned Ducharme sisters – fraternal twins and polar opposites. Sugar (Shakura Dickson) is the sad-sack homebody, shuffling about in her dead mother’s tracksuit and listening over and over to the same classic-rock album. Grace (Natasha Mumba) is the sexy extrovert, known to the locals as the Lion Queen, who poses for eye-popping billboards when she isn’t tending the town’s garbage dump.

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Into their insular world tumbles the mysterious Trout Stanley (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff), a bearded, barefoot wanderer in a tattered cop’s uniform with an olfactory fetish and a fascination for the sex life of the snail. Trout’s an orphan, too, and claims to be on a search for the northern lake where his prospector parents drowned. He shows up on the day of the twins’ 30th birthday – also the date of their own parents’ demise and, since then, seemingly cursed by subsequent deaths – and catches Sugar on the verge of suicide. Not only does he rescue her, he sweeps her off her feet.

Could Trout be the sweet man of Sugar’s dreams – or is he a killer on the loose? As it happens, a popular stripper-cum-Scrabble-champ from a nearby town has recently gone missing, and everyone is fearing the worst.

The appeal of Trout Stanley rests largely in Dey’s dark whimsy and her characters’ funny, unfettered monologues, manic arias that soar to heights of bizarre imagination. She’s a writer drunk on words. But while the play’s premise has a literary pedigree – it’s a sort of loopy variant on D.H. Lawrence’s triangular love story The Fox – the plot is sitcom simple and the final twist would strain credulity even in a daytime soap.

It does, however, offer three great roles, and Tindyebwa Otu’s particular spin – in keeping with Factory’s diverse reimagining of Canadian classics – is to cast it with three terrific, young black actors.

Shakura Dickson, right, gives a winning performance as Sugar.

JOSEPH HOWARTH/Handout

Mumba, who played the queen bee to perfection in last season’s School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play, is no less formidable as Grace the Lion Queen. Rocking cowboy boots and camouflage shorts, she prowls the stage like a fierce feline.

Her witty physicality is more than matched by Jackman-Torkoff’s Trout. Sporting a huge mat of hair and scruffy beard, the actor scrambles about like an underfed bear with a bad case of nerves. Trout is at his wildest, however, when telling his backstory – the play’s longest, craziest monologue – and Jackman-Torkoff delivers it with hilarious intensity.

It’s Dickson, however, who really wins us over as Sugar, a cheerful chatterbox when she isn’t fashioning a noose. Whether dancing alone to that sister-led rock band, Heart, or learning “the ways of the snail” from an amorous Trout, she’s an adorable innocent, and Dickson makes us feel for her. You’ve also got to love her tacky, velour tracksuit.

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Shannon Lea Doyle designed the cartoon-bright costumes as well as the set, adorned with Sugar’s wood carvings that suggest the sisters’ African heritage. David Mesiha’s sound design continually emits crackles, reminding us of the Ducharme parents’ death by lightning. But then, this entire production crackles with high-voltage comic energy. Tindyebwa Otu and her actors are obviously having so much fun in Dey’s wordy world that we do, too.

Trout Stanley continues to Nov. 10. (factorytheatre.ca)

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