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Friday, November 23, 2012
The Little Years - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by John Mighton, Directed by Chris Abraham
Runs until Dec. 16th 2012
Kate's a smart, socially awkward teenage girl with an exceptional understanding and interest in mathematics, particularly in association with time. Too bad she herself lived in the wrong time, in the mid 20th century Canada, where girls are born to be secretaries, nurses and housewives. Spanning decades, the play traces the small words and actions that can have rippling effects on the lives that surround and include Kate.
The beautifully written play The Little Years is a fascinating account of multiple lives where the course of time and expectations take their toll. As directed by Chris Abraham, on a beautifully simple and sparse set by Julie Fox (who also does wonders with the multiple decade spanning costumes) that reconfigures the Tarragon Theatre in an open space. With a terrific lighting design by Kimberly Purtell, and composition and sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne, the production elements heighten the dramatic layers within the play, helping Abraham produce an extremely fluid piece of theatrical art.
Bethany Jillard and Irene Poole share the stage as Kate in different phases of Kate's life, with both turning in solid and heartbreaking performances that have a unity and believability of playing the same character. Chick Reid is irritatingly perfect as Kate's irritatingly perfectionist of a mother, who is stuck in her mid 20th century thinking, and with her tiny criticisms of Kate, and her lavish words for her unseen (but ever felt) brother William, sets Kate upon an unfulfilled and unrealized life despite her clear intelligence.
While brother William leads a successful but busy life, his wife Grace, (a sensational Pamela Sinha) is a far more progressive woman of the era, and willing to push boundaries, and lovingly tries to help and push Kate along the way, though usually with little success. Grace's own life, entangled by her own limits of boundary pushing in the ennui of the suburban life she has somehow found herself in, takes a plot of its own.
The rest of the cast are great in smaller roles, but it is really Jillard and Poole with Sinha who ground the play with a soul against the intellectual discussions of time and place, all under the haunting words of Reid's mother. While I'm still unsure of my thoughts on the taut ending, everything leading up to it was heartfelt and fascinating, in a production that keeps the contemplative play moving at a brisk place. The sound effects/score almost becomes a narrative voice to the play, while Purtell's lighting design helps focus (literally) the multiple characters in their entangled lives.
First seen at Stratford, it is wonderful that Tarragon has brought this beautiful production to Toronto, with most of the cast intact! Such a fascinating piece of theatre.