As soon as city slicker Kate walks into her boyfriend John’s parents’ farmhouse looking like one of the Go-Go’s, you know that more than dust is going to fly in the latest Central Alberta Theatre comedy, Dry Streak.
And it isn’t just Kate’s cutting edge ‘80s fashion — a day-glo pink top, hair bow, mini-skirt, and purple leggings — that clash with the conservative red plaid shirt sported by John’s father, Peter.
Her attitudes about everything, from food (she’s a vegetarian) to landscaping (she’s taking out the lawn to create a rock garden) appear to shake the rural foundations of Stony Valley, Sask. in this good-hearted and genuinely funny play by Saskatchewan’s Leeann Minogue that opened Friday at the Black Knight Inn.
The fact that this dinner theatre production, set in the late 1980s land of former premier Grant Devine, drought and grasshoppers, prompted a lot of knowing audience laughter, shows that Minogue knows a thing or two about what it’s like to live in a small town where your business becomes everybody’s concern.
Director Erna Soderberg did well to pick a completely relatable Canadian comedy instead of the sometimes obscure British farces that CAT’s been known to stage. For one thing, it’s great to hear mention of Canadian Pacific, Peter Mansbridge, Saskatoon, and other references familiar to anyone who’s spent any time in this country — particularly on the Prairies.
Soderberg also did a fantastic job of pacing and casting this play. Everybody in this seven-actor comedy holds his or her own — from experienced actors such as Albert Azzara as the crusty Peter, to complete novices, such as Merinda McCallum as Olive.
McCallum is such a natural as Peter’s wife and John’s mother that it’s hard to believe this is her stage debut. At first, Olive seems to be channelling Edith Bunker, except that it soon becomes apparent that this farm wife is no Dingbat. Instead, Olive exhibits quite a rational concern (as anyone who’s ever lived in a town of 300 people knows) about what the neighbours will think.
While Olive is initially anxious about the shacked-up status of her son and his unconventional girlfriend, who listens to bands like The Dead Kennedys and The Cure on her Walkman, her worries get much, much more expansive when Kate’s drunken vow that she will run naked through town when the drought breaks, makes it into the local newspaper.
The story is then carried cross-country on CP Wire, and is even reported on radio by John’s DJ brother Charlie (Ian Shepphard).
By the time John’s sister, Denise (played by Angela Joosten) suggests selling tickets to Kate’s much anticipated streaking event to raise funds for a new hockey rink, CBC News is sending out a reporter from Toronto to cover the event.
“It’s the first Prairie story they’ve had in a long time that isn’t depressing,” explains Stony Valley’s newspaperman/mayor/insurance salesman Rob (Curtis Clossen).
Chris Johnson and Whitney Richter portray John and Kate as a cute, if rather star-crossed, couple. While the two characters come from different backgrounds, they share believable chemistry, and Johnson and Richter strike the right balance in playing up the comic bits without overdoing them.
If there’s a star of this show it’s Azzara as Peter, who’s about as traditional a guy as you can get. Peter can’t even bring himself to try a carrot muffin, bellowing “What the hell is this?” at Olive when he spots a trace of vegetable in his baked good.
The question, of course, is whether the conservative rural and liberal urban elements here can both move towards the middle.
Well, if Peter can change by the end of this play, then I guess so can we all.
Dry Streak is definitely one event that shouldn’t be missed.
(Special credit must go to set designer Stuart Reid, who miraculously created at least five different settings on the limited Black Knight stage, and costumer Shelley Kozakevich, who helped recreate an era).