Shelley's Shadow

Bridge Street Theatre, Catskill

This guy is posting to Facebook about his neighbor’s memory loss, and people are leaving a lot of comments.

By Andrew Andrews

Daniel Hall Kuhn and Steven Patterson in the world premiere of Brad Fraser’s Shelley’s Shadow, directed by John Sowle with costume design by Michelle Rogers. Original photos by John Sowle.

Fifty-something writer David McMillan is “an artistic type who just got his diploma in hopes of finally getting a real job.” On the elevator of his Toronto high-rise, he keeps bumping into a vibrant, elderly neighbor named Shelley and her spunky dog, Shadow.

After Shelley is hurt by a band of muggers, David volunteers to walk Shadow until she recovers, beginning an unexpected friendship that David decides to share on Facebook.

Gradually, David learns that Shelley is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He also discovers that Shadow is capable of human speech—but only willing to communicate with his new “alpha.”

Billed as an “only slightly fictionalized story” (Hmmm… I wonder if the part about Shadow speaking English is fact or fantasy?), this world premiere play by Canadian Brad Fraser is the first-ever commission by Bridge Street Theatre.

Shelley (Janet Keller) poses with David (Steven Patterson) and Shadow (Daniel Hall Kuhn) for a selfie destined for Facebook.

When I heard this is a world premiere play, I was a little apprehensive about attending.

After all, we’ve seen a lot of world premiere plays (especially in Manhattan, but more recently in the Hudson Valley) that weren’t nearly ready for the world to endure.

Add to that a cast of only three people—including one playing a talking dog—and, let’s just say that a lot could go wrong.

Wow! My concerns couldn’t have been farther from reality!

Maybe it’s because Fraser is one of Canada’s most widely-produced and highly-regarded contemporary playwrights, so he knows how to develop a good story. Or perhaps it’s because so much of this tale is based on actual events that it reeks of realism despite its anthropomorphic canine.

Whatever the reason, not only is this is the best play I’ve seen at Bridge Street Theatre: I dare say it’s one of the best new plays I’ve seen anywhere, ever!

With frequent asides to the audience of narrated social media posts, the plot is endearing from the get-go. The three actors are ideal for their roles and deliver them with perfection, and Kuhn’s performance reminds me of the delightful Tom Petty in the equally-wonderful new play The Journey.

The set is surprisingly busy compared to John Sowle’s usual Zen-like designs; its conglomeration of open monochrome squares conveys a subtle sense of confusion similar to productions of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (in this case representing Alzheimer’s rather than autism).

This isn’t an all-out comedy, but I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much.

It’s not a depressing story, either, yet a couple of scenes actually brought tears to my eyes.

Shelley’s Shadow is simply wonderful storytelling, and I wish every world premiere play could be as good as this!

Andrew Andrews attended Shelley's Shadow at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill on Sunday, September 11, 2022 @ 2:00pm to write this review.