In a departure from conventional theatrical fare, Windsor’s Purple Theatre Company prepares to unveil a singular comedic mystery that blends rural settings with cosmopolitan skepticism. “The Case of the Odd Shaped Gas Tanks,” penned and directed by Joey Ouellette, promises a tableau of characters as quirky as the play’s title itself. Scheduled to run on November 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 at Windsor’s Shadowbox Theatre, the play delves into a narrative landscape that mingles suspense with humor, achieving a nuanced portrayal of human frailty.
At the crux of the drama is Liam Heffrendaun, a police officer repositioned from the bustling metropolis to the secluded hamlet of New Drummondville. “Heffrendaun is not a bad person,” Ouellette explains. “He’s just lost his way in a complicated world and needs some help finding himself again.” And find himself he does, but not in solitude. His guiding star comes in the form of an unlikely Holmes to his Watson—an elderly woman named Mrs. McGregor.
Challenging traditional buddy stories, Ouellette pairs this disoriented cop with Mrs. McGregor, portrayed by Mary Grace Weir, who is “handicapped by frailty,” but not by wit or wisdom. “I wanted to write a buddy story, a Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings kind of thing,” Ouellette shares. “Together, they are unstoppable.”
The setting itself serves as a character in the unfolding drama. “New Drummondville is small, inbred, and isolated,” the playwright points out, drawing from his experience of living in similar rural locales. “A place name here actually refers to an area rather than a settlement. That level of isolation becomes an integral part of the play.”
Writing a comedic mystery comes with its own set of challenges, as Ouellette describes. “I try to subscribe to the Agatha Christie Idea—that all the clues should be plainly displayed so anyone could figure it out,” he says. “The hardest part was keeping the adventure and comedy steady while keeping the clues out there.”
When asked about the play’s humor enhancing its suspense elements, Ouellette explains that comedy serves as a vehicle to get the audience more involved in the story. “If you can amuse an audience, they’ll let their guard down, making it easy to get involved in the mystery,” he states.
The creation of the project is a solo endeavor for Ouellette, but he stresses the role of his imagined “team.” “In my head are all the actors I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “They help me by becoming the characters, giving them life, making them jump off the page. That’s not a solo effort, that’s a team.”
The casting process was all about finding actors who could bring out the richness in their roles. “Liam Heffrendaun is the center of the play. He’s like the trunk of the Christmas tree. The characters are the decorations, the garlands, the fun stuff,” Ouellette illuminates. With a cast featuring talents like Damie Oliver, Marnie Gare, Linda Collard, Jaz Morneau, Laura Scott, Cheri Scratch, and Ouellette himself, each actor was encouraged to let their character’s individuality shine.
As the curtains prepare to rise at The Shadowbox Theatre, “The Case of the Odd Shaped Gas Tanks” looms as a testament to Joey Ouellette’s evolving theatrical vision—a vision that continues to engage Windsor’s theatergoers in narratives that are as complex as they are entertaining. More information is available at postproductionswindsor.ca.