The modest dreams of the grocery cashier: Check Me Out, a Fringe review

By Liz Nicholls,

Check Me Out, NextGen Theatre, Edmonton Fringe 2019.

Check Me Out (Stage 15, Holy Trinity Anglican Church)

In his new comedy, premiering in a NextGen Theatre production, Trevor Schmidt, who has written so often and so well for women, sets about capturing the dynamics of female friendship. And — tricky, this — it’s in a setting that isn’t in itself wildly “dramatic” or traumatizing.

In Check Me Out, we’re backstage, so to speak, at the Pennywise Family Grocery, in the “employees room” out in the back alley. That’s where cashiers go to smoke, hang out, chew the fat, sympathize with each other, bitch about the management, undergo cashier training (and attitude re-training).

There’s a blowsy and good-natured 31-year veteran Shirl (Elizabeth Allison-Jorde, in fanciful boho garb), who’s chronically late for work. There are a couple of young cashiers. Snarly Martha (Morgan Alexandra Donald),  in a cloud of vape, is glued to her phone. Her go-to conversational gambit is “fuck off Tanya.” The latter, a self-important eager-beaver (Janelle Jorde), is, as she’s fond of reminding everyone, the “junior assistant manager.”    

What sets the play in motion is the arrival of a newcomer, Daphne (Blair Wensley), whose husband has dumped her, for an older woman (how hard on the ego is that?). She’s wide-eyed, flustered and nervous about being back in the work force after 32 years, and Wensley captures all those qualities beautifully. She actually blushes, on cue. 

The performances are unforced, and on the money; we feel like we’re eavesdroppers, but the tone isn’t condescending. The humour is gentle, piquant but not pushy. The public address announcements are constantly a bit screwed up. “Everyone loves a good jellied salad.” Secrets are revealed. Suspense comes from the vegetable codes: will Daphne pass the cashier’s test?

And gradually, unobtrusively, you realize that “validation,” like dreams, comes in all shapes and sizes. The modest ones can be the most momentous. 

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