by Lynn on October 26, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

Melody A. Johnson, photo by Nir Bareket

The following two reviews were broadcast Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5FM: MISS CALEDONIA at The Tarragon Extra Space until November 22, and DELICACY at the Factory Studio Theatre until November 3.

The host was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Friday morning. It’s time to find out what’s going on in theatre in our city from Lynn Slotkin, our passionate playgoer and theatre critic.

Hi Lynn. As it’s nearly Halloween, what treats or tricks to you have for us this week?

Hi Rose. Two plays. MISS CALEDONIA written and performed by Melody A. Johnson at the Tarragon Extra Space. And DELICACY at the Factory Studio Theatre.

2) Let’s cut to the chase with MISS CALEDONIA, is it a trick or a treat?

It’s a lovely, funny treat. It’s a wonderful homage/love letter to Peggy Ann Douglas, the mother of writer performer Melody A. Johnson. Peggy was a young teen in the early 1950s and lived on the family farm on RR2 Caledonia, not far from here. She was a dutiful daughter who did chores but had dreams of getting off that farm as soon as possible. How? Beauty pageants. That was the ticket. She read about a young woman who won a beauty contest in the States and went to Hollywood and became the movie star known as Debbie Reynolds. So why can’t Peggy Ann Douglas of Caledonia, Ontario Canada do the same? She convinced her mother to let her follow her dream. Her father was a matter of fact, no nonsense man so he had to be kept out of the loop.

Peggy worked hard. She took a course in poise. She practiced speaking and she worked on her secret talent. She was focused.

3) Actor-writer Melody A. Johnson brings a lot of talent to the role doesn’t she?

She does. She’s a stalwart of the Second City Company. She’s directed their recent show. She’s acted across the country and is a gifted writer. And it all comes out with elegance, grace and spare economy in MISS CALEDONIA. I think spareness is the operative word. There is only one prop, a bench and that’s it. No gesture, body-language, reaction or movement is anything but appropriate. There is no tearing around the stage for no reason. It’s all simple, thoughtful and so effective. She knows the power of stillness. And her writing is wonderful and expressive.

One character is described as having ‘asparagus fingers.’ What a vivid image. You know exactly what that looks like, long and perhaps knotted, definitely not green, but we get the idea.

While MISS CALEDONIA is very funny there are poignant moments and Johnson handles them with the same focus and care as the humour.

4) With all her talent, does she need a director?

Interestingly she has two directors—both gifted as actors as well: Rick Roberts and Aaron Willis. I think they and Ms Johnson infuse the piece with nuance, subtlety and just keep the focus on the words and telling the story.

I have a quibble though. There is a violin accompaniment and musical score provided by Alison Porter, who is very talented. She provides sound effects but also underscores the speaking with her violin playing. I thought that was all unnecessary, and at times annoying. We don’t need effects when the writing and acting is so expressive.

But for the rest, a wonderful treat.

5) Now tell us about the next play. DELICACY. Is it a trick or a treat?

It’s a spicy, tangy, bitter-sweet treat that’s written and directed by Kat Sandler. This is how it’s described: “DELICACY is a dark sitting room comedy—in the same vein at Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-that lampoons foodie and condo culture, and takes up issues of race, class and all the other messy things that make up our generation’s lack of a real cause. It’s young, fast-paced and vicious, just like us.”

I think that last bit can apply to anybody. The place was packed last night, the opening night with exuberant young people (obviously friends of the cast etc.) no problem there.

6) So what’s the story?

It’s about two couples. Mark and Tanya are upwardly mobile. He’s a writer. She’s a designer. They have money and live the good life. They live in a downtown condo that she has decorated in white with furniture that is more to make a statement than for comfort. They bicker. Perhaps their marriage is stale.

They are adding some zing by inviting Len and Colby over for an evening. Len is a welder. Colby designs greeting cards. They live in the suburbs. They drink wine from screw top bottles.

The couples met at a sex club two weeks before where they swapped and want to try and rekindle that spark. So the talk is full of sexual innuendo, breezy commentary, and lots of wine drinking.

Len wants to get in on with Tanya and sees no reason for stalling. Colby, the loudest, most lively person in the room wants to get it on with Mark. She also seems to like this swapping with lots of partners. Pretty soon we learn why. Secrets are revealed, as they always are when wine is involved. As are truths that no one wants to face.

7) Is it a good play?

There’s been a lot of buzz about writer Kat Sandler. She has a hit at the Fringe, which alas I’m never here for. But if her writing in DELICACY is any indication she’s one to watch.

The writing is indeed fast paced, raw, funny, witty, and full of zingers that can leave the recipient dazed and wondering what hit them. It’s not just cheap laughs. This dialogue comes naturally from these characters and I believe every one of them. These characters all have issues with no neat resolution, which makes the play real.

I don’t believe that program blurb that it’s also about that generations lack of a real cause…I don’t get the sense that that is what Sandler is writing about. These couples have a real need that is not being fulfilled and that’s what the angst is about.

Sandler also directs and the result is terrific. She understands subtlety, nuance and sexuality. The performances are also dandy. As Mark, Andy Trithardt is a bit uptight and self-absorbed. Tanya, Mark’s wife is played by Tennille Read with style and neediness. As Colby, Kelly McCormack is brassy, buoyant, fearless and heartbreaking when you know what she’s desperate for. And as Len, Kaleb Alexander is boyish, flirtatious and so confident in his skin you can see why Tanya would be charmed.

So DELICACY is anything but a delicacy—it’s like a big meaty, juicy sandwich.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our passionate playgoer and theatre critic. You can read Lynn’s blog at

MISS CALEDONIA plays at the Tarragon Extra Space until November 22.

DELICACY plays at the Factory Studio Theatre until November 3.

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