The National Arts Centre English Theatre
and Neptune Theatre (Halifax) present
The Little Years
By John Mighton
Directed by Leah Cherniak
Assistant Director: Tanner Harvey
Set Design by Nigel Scott
Lighting Design by Leigh Ann Vardy
Original Music and Sound Design by Marc Desormeaux
Costume Design by D’Arcy Morris-Poultney
Stage manager: Jane Butler Creaser
Assistant Stage Manager: Jane Vanstone Osborn
Performance at NAC viewed: 8 pm November 25, 2006
Running time 72 minutes
Disclaimer: I have met John Mighton, whom I like, and who is indirectly related to friends of mine by marriage.
I like this play. It is intelligently written, was sensitively and artfully produced and performed. It was a wonderful half-evening of theatre.
If this had been a full-length play, I think it would be the story of Grace, the more interesting character in the piece; as it was really just a one-act play, the program notes tell us that it is the story of Kate, a brilliant female whose life is ruined by her parents’ and her time’s biases against smart women.
When you watch a John Mighton play, you listen for the intelligence in the writing, because Mighton is brilliant, and his scripts never disappoint on that score. One of the really intriguing lines that he comes up with is about William, who is described as being disappointed by fame because before he was famous, he could talk to people and find out about them; now that he is famous, he only hears about himself. That is an arresting observation about fame, one that I had never heard before.
In his program notes, Peter Hinton speaks of wanting to produce this play because he can remember upon reading the script after having seen the original Tarragon production “being overwhelmed with emotion” by it. I cannot say that the production did that to me, but I did feel some pathos in the later stages of the situation of Kate, played with effective restraint by Tanja Jacobs. But I kept thinking that a one act play is not enough weight for the situation; it felt rushed and the thematic elements were just touched upon. Ibsen or Chekov would have given us two or three hours of development, and the play would have been mesmerizing. As it was, it was intriguing and thoughtful, but not powerful.
I liked Jacobs’ performance because of her softness and tendency to underplay the character, making it all the more poignant. On the other hand, Julie Stewart gave us a rich portrayal of Grace, William’s wife, who is certainly a more interesting character, although her situation is much more usual than Kate’s. It was interesting to see Stewart’s comfort level onstage, compared to her certainly different role as the lead detective, Ali McCormick, in the television crime series Cold Squad. Stewart certainly came off stronger than the faltering Keiffer Sutherland (24) who trod the same stage with his mother a few years ago as Tom in Tennessee Williams’ A Glass Menagerie. Mary-Colin Chisholm played Kate’s mother, Alice, with just the right amount of post-war helplessness. Her nursing home transformation and performance were poignant and blackly humorous.
Christian Murray totally fooled me: after the performance, I was wondering who the second male was who played the other characters. Now that was a little bit of magic; I had not realized there was only one male playing all those parts. Well done! Also playing multiple parts were Julie Stewart, who did a brief turn as a silly teeneager, and very credibly so — again, I had not realized it was she. Krystin Pellerin also played two parts: the young Kate, and Grace’s daughter at quite different ages, both very credibly. I believe makeup had something to do with that, as it did with Tanja Jacobs’ very credible aging. No one was credited with makeup, so I conclude the actors did their own. I did have the sense that Grace and Kate were aging at different rates, although that was probably attibutable to Grace’s happier life. Back to Pellerin: her portrayal of young Kate was so agreeable that I was hoping she would be able somehow to stay with the character throughout the play, as I felt quite comfortable with her representation of the character, and she did appear later, briefly, as time overlapped.
Marc Desormeaux, as usual designed a lovely understated soundscape for this piece. This was a production that required subtlety, and the occasional crowd sounds, wind in the trees, folks offstage and musical interludes were just right to provide atmosphere. I can say the same for Vardy’s lighting design, which was called upon to produce transitions and mood. Morris-Poultney’s costumes were absolutely classic. The transitions of Kate from her forties to her sixties especially, and the mother, Alice, were amazingly effective.
The set, while clever and intricate, was simply unnecessary overkill. There was no need for the rotations and counter-rotations. Why the tree rotated is beyond me. And why the nursing home scene was moved slowly across the stage over a period of about five minutes with the accompanying tick-ticks of the turning mecahnism struck me as being a showy trick rather than an effective use of resources.
I said near the top of this review, that it was a wonderful half-evening of theatre. Maybe wonderful is a little too strong: it was a diverting half-evening of theatre. For the diverting part, credit the designers and cast and crew and director; for the half part, blame Peter Hinton, NAC English Theatre Artistic Director, who chose to foist a one act play on the subscriber base as a full evening of theatre. It takes me longer than seventy-two minutes to drive to the theatre, and that does not include driving home afterwards. There was a time when a one act play was the prelude to an evening of theatre, seen before dinner, after which, the real play would begin.
If we are to continue paying full fare for a half or third of an evening, perhaps we shall rebel and spend our hard-earned coinage elsewhere.