Written and performed by Melody A. Johnson. Directed by Rick Roberts and Aaron Willis. Tarragon Extra Space, to Nov. 22.
Baton twirling is a skill you don’t see on display in the theatre very often, but actor-playwright Melody A. Johnson rectifies that deficiency in her solo show Miss Caledonia. Playing a 1950s beauty-pageant contestant, Johnson wields the baton while whipping her way through the country classic, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Her deliciously corny routine is the highlight of this folksy tale about an Ontario farm girl whose big dream is to make it to Hollywood via the pageant circuit.
Johnson’s play is inspired by the experiences of her mother, Peggy Ann Douglas. The wiry, red-haired Johnson, clad in jeans and plaid shirt, plays young Peggy Ann as well as the girl’s dour father, sympathetic mother, and a bushel of rural types. When star-struck Peggy Ann isn’t doing chores on her family’s log-cabin homestead, she’s aspiring to be the next Debbie Reynolds and praying to her Tinseltown god, Bing Crosby, for advice. She finally gets a shot at the big time with help from her mother, whose own simple dreams are centred on indoor plumbing.
Johnson is a Second City alum who directed the company’s current revue. With Miss Caledonia she puts aside big-city satire for small-town humour and wistfulness. Her writing is filled with homespun colour and her characterizations are funny but affectionate. The show is less Little Miss Sunshine than Wingfield Farm, and Johnson leaves Peggy Ann’s story unfinished, Wingfield style, as if with a view to a sequel. If that’s the case, let’s hope it includes more baton.