I needed to see Tornado Magnet after the American election this past week. I know that it was an American election, and that we live in Canada, but it doesn’t change the fact that I needed to see that we can fill 75% of the seats at The Roxy on Gateway on a preview night with people who want to be immersed in the beautiful world that is the Wild Rose Trailer Court as brought to life by Darrin Hagen as Dotty Parsons. I needed to be reminded that while there is intolerance, stereotyping and bullying in the world, we can and will still share our cultures and celebrate diversity. And… I needed to laugh. Fortunately, Tornado Magnet meets all of these criteria and more. Tornado Magnet plays at The Roxy on Gateway until November 27 and if you could use a love-filled, joyful 75 minutes at Dotty’s trailer with a cup of her excellent coffee, I’m sure Dotty would invite you to come on down.
Tornado Magnet, written by Darrin Hagen, is Dotty Parsons’ homemade show fighting ‘mobile home-ophobia’ and ‘trailer trash’ stereotypes by presenting life in a trailer court the way she has experienced it. As Dotty introduces us to the families (and bachelor) living in the Wild Rose Trailer Court just outside of Rocky Mountain House, any Trailer Park Boys-style preconceptions you might have about life in a trailer court are put to rest by Dotty’s meticulous explanation of all facets of the trailer court lifestyle. Starting with the history of trailer courts and moving through the intricacies of decorating, socializing, fashion, and ‘trading up’ your trailer, Tornado Magnet is a crash course introduction to living in a trailer court.
As I mention in my preview of the show, Tornado Magnet is also Darrin Hagen’s homage to his mother and his childhood in a trailer court outside of Rocky Mountain House. Darrin based Dotty on his mother’s vocal cadence and the routines that he remembers from his childhood, fine-tuning and evolving the character and the show over its 20-year history. And it shows – this entire production is completely laced with love – for trailer court life, the community, and for Dotty.
Tornado Magnet is a hilarious show, but not in the way you expect. A barrage of ‘you know you’re trailer trash when…’ jokes open the show, but the hurtfulness of these jokes and stereotypes is quickly acknowledged. Instead, the humour is built upon a keen observation of the human habits of one’s neighbours that can only come from years of living in close proximity to one another. Darrin’s writing in Tornado Magnet feels like the way a family might speak about one another: a mixture of love and observational humour that can only be commented on by members of the family (or in this case the community) that have that deep knowledge of who the person is at their core. In Tornado Magnet, Dotty invites you to laugh with her at the eccentricities of her community, while still respectfully providing a window into the daily life of that community. There is no outright explanation of the circumstances of the folks living in that trailer court – just a desire to portray these characters honestly and lovingly. Especially in today’s world, we need more shows like Tornado Magnet.
Near the beginning of Tornado Magnet, Dotty introduces us to the 11 families living in the Wild Rose Trailer Court, and having grown up in small town Saskatchewan myself, I recognized every single one of the neighbours Dotty talks about in the show, who Darrin says are based upon the real families who lived in the trailer court with him as he grew up. As Dotty talks about the families that are always renovating, the family who always has a yard full of cars in various states of operation and repair, and the ladies who make it their business to know what everyone else is up to, it felt like I was back visiting my hometown. One of my favourite lines in the show is when Dotty is catching up with one of her neighbours and asks her how her garden was this year. As I was chatting with my Mom today, she mentioned how she ran into a former resident of the small town where I grew up, and the very first thing she was asked was how her garden turned out this year.
For this first full production of Tornado Magnet – previous productions have been at fringe festivals or other short-run, load-in/load out performances – the set and lighting design are meticulous. Trevor Schmidt’s set is perfectly designed down to the last detail with dated pieces that look that they’ve been thrifted and carefully cared for over the years. Meanwhile, Scott Peters’ lighting design gives the whole set a warm glow matching the idyllic way that Darrin’s script portrays life in the Wild Rose Trailer Court and I was totally enthralled with the way Scott uses light to bring a tornado to The Roxy on Gateway’s stage.
Head on down to lot #11, for a cup of Dotty’s famous coffee, and a hilarious, heartfelt presentation on life in the Wild Rose Trailer Court. Tornado Magnet runs at The Roxy on Gateway November 10 – 27. Tickets are $24 – $30 through Theatre Network’s box office.