MORRISBURG – The small Ontario town of Elliston Falls has fallen on hard times since the paper mill closed down.
Unemployment is at an all-time high and their economy seems to be in the toilet. However, a young tourism officer, along with the help of three local women come together and find the most unlikely solution in undergarments.
Upper Canada Playhouse’s latest production, Knickers, tells the story of three local women who meet weekly for Weight Watchers to do everything except watch their weight. They gossip, share their hard luck stories and snack on everything from chips and cookies to KFC.
After they nearly give up on the town, a tourism officer comes in hoping to find a way to turn the small, unknown town into a tourism attraction and teams up with the girls to start a custom underwear business and eventually build a giant pair of knickers as a roadside attraction.
On the one hand, the story and characters are fairly relatable in their struggles living in a small community. Residents in Dundas County will recognize a lot of the characteristics of a small town, including the gossip, locals’ resistance of inviting outsiders into their little club and the sheer spirit to “bare” everything to save the community.
However, while the writing did capture the spirit of a small community, there wasn’t much in the comedic aspect for a comedy show. Not that the jokes didn’t land or weren’t funny, but they seemed to get in the way of the overall storytelling.
Every once in the while, when the girls were talking about important plot points, one of them would turn to the audience and tell a random joke. Sure, the audience would laugh, but they would usually joke when talking about something important and it’s like someone hit the pause button to listen to a joke that was ’90s sitcom worthy at best.
Also, throughout the play, each of the three main local characters got individual monologues to better explain their own character arcs, goals and hardships. While it was a nice attempt to mix comedy with hard drama, it did not mix well unfortunately.
For example, the four actresses have a scene where they discuss holding their own fashion show for their line of knickers in a church and being their own models. It was a fairly comical and light-hearted scene, but then after the scene ends, we suddenly get a monologue from the Mary character who explains that she hasn’t been in a church in a long time due to her mother having a fling with the pastor and then the pastor suddenly had eyes for her.
The audience reaction was obviously very wide-eyed and slightly uncomfortable to this moment because it didn’t seem to match the overall tone that the play was aiming for. Nothing about Mary’s character built up to this moment, it’s almost like this scene was put in for shock value, which is actually fine because taking us out of our comfort zone can be interesting.
But, there has to be a better narrative to get us there.
There was another moment when the Barb character would talk about her suicide attempt and it’s actually played off for a laugh at the end. There’s nothing wrong with mixing in funny comedy with hard drama, but there has to be a better flowing narrative to understand the environment and characters.
So, all in all, the play is a mixed bag of emotions, but it is still a relevant piece of storytelling told to the right audience that will find joy in the comedic underdog story.
Knickers continues at the Upper Canada Playhouse until Sun., July 29. To purchase tickets and check for showtimes, visit www.uppercanadaplayhouse.com.