By Stephen Weir
Stephen Jackman-Torkoff has had so many edgy roles in his young acting career that crazy comes easy. This month he plays a barefoot wanderer who roams through a British Columbia forest in a tattered police uniform looking for the lake where his jewelry-thieving parents accidently electrocuted themselves years ago.
Early in this Black comedy he meets two equally crazy gun-toting, noose-carrying sisters, and falls in love overnight. Did I mention Jackman-Torkoff’s character only answers to the name of Trout Stanley?
Jackman-Torkoff is the runaway star of Trout Stanley, a very dark comedy currently getting rave reviews at the downtown Factory Lab Theatre. Trout Stanley is a remount of a play that first hit the boards back in 2004 in Nova Scotia, came to Toronto in 2005 and then on to a “wow zowie” response in New York City.
The play concerns three orphans who are all marking their 30th birthday on the same day, while a murderer stalks another 30-year old. Consider that in real life Jackman-Torkoff is soon to turn 30, was raised in foster care in Richmond Hill and considers himself a wandering poet (and disco dancer) and you get a rising star that is made for the part of Trout Stanley.
Fifteen years after its first performance, the play is back as part of Factory Lab’s 50th anniversary theatre celebration. Still fiercely funny. Still off-the-wall, this year’s remount has a different twist. The three characters on stage and the play’s director are Black – not a single white person is in this Gothic Canadian comedy thriller by Governor General Award winning playwright Claudia Dey.
“Working with a cast of all black actors has been a joyous experience in terms of exploring this world, and this language from a first generation African Canadian immigrant lens,” said director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu. “The themes of co-dependence, isolation and the fantasy of finding love in the most unexpected places struck a sweet and deep chord with me!”
She is an award winning theatre creator and director raised in Kenya and Victoria and now lives in Toronto. She has produced notable productions at Soulpepper Theatre (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Obsidian Theater (Oraltorio: A Theatre Mixtape) and her own IFT Theatre (Dancing to a White Boy Song).
The storyline is as odd as the name of the play: Sugar (Shakura Dickson) and her twin sister Grace (Natasha Mumba) have lived together alone in the middle of nowhere for a decade. Sugar hasn’t left the house (nor even changed her clothes) since the death of their parents ten years to the day. Grace keeps it all together for the pair by working in a nearby dump and posing in hot pants for a gun shop’s rural road billboard.
The play opens on the twin’s 30th birthday, well actually they are triplets, but sister #3, (called Duckling), didn’t make it out of the birth canal. They are worried and somewhat excited because for the past nine years women exactly their age are murdered, and Grace always finds the murder victim’s body. Will it happen tonight for a tenth time?
This year a local stripper, who is also a Scrabble champ, has gone missing. Is she the next victim? The stay-at-home Sugar is convinced she and her sister are cursed and decides the only way she can stop the Scrabble stripper from getting snuffed out on their birthday is to take pre-emptive strike by hanging herself.
While Sugar may be damaged goods, Trout Stanley is broke almost beyond saving. “I grew up in silence save for the sound of a fire poppin’ on the stove top, my mother’s electric razor in the bathroom an’ the television on full tilt,” says Trout. “Sometimes I called the television Mother.”
Over the course of the performance the mystery of the missing stripper is solved, Trout and Sugar fall in love and Grace, well it gets complicated.
When I first saw Trout at the Factory Lab in the innocent days of the 2005 – Trout Stanley’s in-your-face humour was refreshing and shocking. Now? Well jokes about serial killers and torching cops tied to kitchen chairs don’t get the belly laughs that they did back then. Really what earns the play the standing O’s it is getting every night, is the quality of the acting, over almost two hours, this trio of actors do it all – slapstick, whacky dancing, to crazy body language.
The all-Black cast for a production that back in 2005 was all white, is interesting but doesn’t make much of a difference in the presentation of the play. These are Black actors portraying white characters and they do it well. The set is a 2005 cottage with a big cathode ray tube TV, furniture you might have bought from Sears, and an electric stove – it reeks of backwoods old stock. The sisters like to eat white – roast beef most days. And Sugar has been listening and awkwardly dancing every day for a decade to the same LP Heart’s Dreamboat Annie and Magic Man.
You will laugh. You will sigh. And then you will laugh some more. Sugar, Grace and Trout will be celebrating their 30th Happy Death Day at the Factory Lab Theatre until November 10th.