Jeff Challoner as Frank and Cynthia Edwards as Gladys rehears a scene from the upcoming Central Alberta Theatre production of Gladys in Wonderland.

Jeff Challoner as Frank and Cynthia Edwards as Gladys rehears a scene from the upcoming Central Alberta Theatre production of Gladys in Wonderland.

CAT play is a trip down the rabbit hole

You’d think eating cream doughnuts for breakfast would be allowed when you’re 87 years old. Unfortunately, a morning pastry-chomping habit helps undo the title character of Gladys in Wonderland. The subversive comedy about aging by Rosemary Frisino Toohey is being staged as dinner theatre at the Quality Inn North Hill in Red Deer.

You’d think eating cream doughnuts for breakfast would be allowed when you’re 87 years old.

Unfortunately, a morning pastry-chomping habit helps undo the title character of Gladys in Wonderland. The subversive comedy about aging by Rosemary Frisino Toohey is being staged as dinner theatre at the Quality Inn North Hill in Red Deer.

In this bitingly funny Central Alberta Theatre production, Gladys’s unorthodox breakfasts are treated as just another sign of her growing eccentricity — another reason for concerned relatives to swoop in on her, like a crazed medevac team bent on rescuing a hapless and assumed batty octogenarian.

Save Gladys from what, you might ask. From herself? From advanced age? From being a living reminder they too will get old?

The Angel of Death, played as a kindly gentleman by Bob Greig, arrives at the beginning of this play to escort Gladys into the Great Beyond. But the slipper-wearing, frazzle-haired senior (endearingly portrayed by Cynthia Edwards), isn’t sure she’s ready to shuffle off this mortal coil — yet.

After meeting a procession of Gladys’s obnoxious friends and relations — including her condescending niece Karen (Stacey Palmer) and entitled nephew Henry (Curtis Closson) — you’ll think Mort, the Grim Reaper, isn’t the one she should run screaming from.

Gladys in Wonderland is the rare comedy that will make you laugh and think.

Seniors in the audience will undoubtedly nod knowingly at the indignities Gladys’s smug and clueless clan inflict upon her — from taking over her laundry room, to making her listen to tedious advice about nutrition, getting her affairs in order, and productively filling her time.

Younger theatre-goers will probably be left reassessing their own assumptions about the elderly, as well as how society treats them.

One of the funniest scenes involves Gladys visiting a nursing home and getting the low-down on how things work from residents, Lillian (Pamela Henshall) and Ethel (Lourdes Trudgeon).

The two confess their greatest dread is that the gung-ho nursing attendant will catch them looking lively — thereby foisting exercise, or crafting materials upon them.

Director Erna Soderberg sets the right seditious tone for a play that serves up bitter truths on a palatable platter of witty dialogue.

Her strong cast of CAT veterans and newbies — including Dru Christensen and Jeff Challoner as Gladys’s brother and sister-in-law, Pam Snowdon as her daughter, Doris, and Arlene Clark as her best friend, Mildred— don’t under or overplay their roles, and generally show sharp comic timing.

Anyone wanting an entertaining and thought-provoking evening of theatre is encouraged to take a subversive trip down the rabbit hole with Gladys in Wonderland.

It runs until Feb. 6.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com