Michael Sutherland

What would the neighbours think?

When Frank Whitman kicks the bucket, it causes a big flap in his normally quiet hometown in Nova Scotia.

When Frank Whitman kicks the bucket, it causes a big flap in his normally quiet hometown in Nova Scotia.

It’s not just that the well-known farmer has died — it’s how he died that figures prominently in the next Central Alberta Theatre comedy, Fishing for Frank by Daniel R. Lillford.

Town residents can’t get over how Frank was stung to death by hornets after running over their nest with his new John Deere tractor.

The same gossips also can’t stop yakking about Frank’s scandalous wife, Millie.

She previously walked out on Frank only to take up with a younger man — a much younger man, doncha know?

Erna Soderberg, the director of this dinner theatre comedy that opens on Friday, Jan. 6, at Red Deer’s City Centre Stage, said Red Deer was a small enough community while she was growing up here. Combined with her experience of other small towns, whether they be in Alberta or Nova Scotia, Soderberg believes a kind of communal judgment prevails whenever someone bucks conventionality and does the unexpected.

Millie, for instance, becomes something of a town pariah after leaving Frank late in life.

Only her friend, 60-something Hilda, hasn’t turned her back on her. But even Hilda asks Millie to come in by the back door so she doesn’t have to explain her visits to the neighbours.

It’s a kind of a “group-think” that takes over, said Soderberg, who believes Fishing for Frank is sprinkled with so many truisms that audience members can’t help relating to the humour — especially if they’ve experienced small-town living.

While Frank’s one-time neighbours have a somewhat narrow view of what’s acceptable, Soderberg said the characters in this comedy — notably Hilda, her husband Ed, and his friend Dick — don’t know they are being judgmental. They also don’t realize they are contributing to the very rumour mill they believe is running amuck.

But Soderberg appreciates the characters for their salt-of-the-earth humour and outspokenness.

Ed, for example, can’t forgive himself for once voting for that “leftist, Montreal separatist, Trudeau.” He feels Stephen Harper is “the best friggin’ prime minister, ever.”

Ed and Dick spend their time in their man cave of a workshop dissecting the alarmingly liberal turns taken by the Anglican and United Churches — and, of course, Millie’s sex life.

“They talk about politics, sex and religion ­— the very things you’re not supposed to talk about,” said a chuckling Soderberg, who enjoyed bringing the small-town Annapolis Valley community to life.

She believes the audience will love hearing all the local gossip, too — and seeing what happens when the life of another upstanding community member takes a bizarrely unexpected turn.

“It’s just funny. Every line has humour in it.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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