Melody A. Johnson gets top marks in Miss Caledonia.
MISS CALEDONIA by Melody A. Johnson (Tarragon Extra Space, 30 Bridgman). To November 22. $21-$53, some discounts. 416-531-1827. See listing. Rating: NNNNN
Melody A. Johnson's Miss Caledonia takes the crown.
The charming and touching biographical play is inspired by the author's mother, Peggy, who entered beauty pageants in the 1950s to try to escape the drudgery of her southwestern Ontario farm community.
Wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, her red hair cropped short, Peggy dreams of being discovered and whisked away to Hollywood like former farm girl Mary Frances Reynolds (aka Debbie Reynolds). Her self-sacrificing mother - not wanting Peggy to live the same life she does - encourages her, but the crops are doing poorly, Peggy's gruff father will have none it, and she's needed for dozens of chores.
Besides, what does Peggy know about poise, grace and scintillating conversation - the things you need to become a beauty queen - when people like the lovestruck farm boy who offers her a ride can barely put together a sentence?
Johnson's script is a marvel of economy, establishing characters and situations in no-nonsense language that always feels authentic. (At one point Peggy's told she's "pouring the milk before squeezing the udder.")
Johnson, directed by Rick Roberts and Aaron Willis, seamlessly morphs from one character to another, sometimes with a body twirl, a tightening of her lips or quick movement under Raha Javanfar's superb lighting design. Alison Porter's onstage fiddling enhances each moment beautifully.
The theme underscoring everything is the limited options available to women of the time. So on one level, Miss Caledonia feels like an homage by a very talented daughter to the mother and grandmother who hoped and dreamed before her.