51 by: Elissa Barnard
The masterful award-winning Nova Scotia playwright examines mortality and human connection as three disparate women interact, each woman at a crossroads in her life.
Popular Nova Scotian singer and skilled comic actor Heather Rankin stars as Birdy, a hard-nosed, practical woman who has lost her husband and is hired as a housekeeper by Patricia (Jenny Munday), a wealthy, retired school teacher who suffers from arthritis and has settled in a grand home in a rural community.
Merritt award-winner Stephanie MacDonald turns her gifts to Dell, Birdy’s unhappy daughter living with her mother, taking a course online and raising her two sons, one of whom has decided he will only answer to the name of Alice.
In Small Things, MacIvor mines the comedy of daily life in astute, brilliant observations as these three characters struggle and conflict.
It’s amazing how each woman is so easy to relate to even though they are at very different stages of life.
Birdy is a chatty, uptight woman of poor economic circumstances and pedestrian vocabulary. As Rankin plays her, she is wonderfully sharp and funny as she chastises her daughter and totally clashes with Patricia.
Patricia, a great mix of the comic, caustic and deeply human in Munday’s hands, is a reader and an arts lover with an imperial attitude. When she develops a bond with the more deep-thinking Dell, she accelerates her conflict with Birdy.
On top of being funny, Small Things is like the Schubert music that haunts the stage, both “beautiful and sad,” as Birdy says.
MacIvor, aided by assistant director Emmy Alcorn, moves his dream cast within a carefully crafted structure. He lets every note count holding the pauses. It’s wonderful to see the softly changing expressions on the faces of the actors as they sit alone after a storm of dialogue.
There’s a perfect moment of staging when the light focuses on Birdy as she listens to a concert while Patricia walks away from her into a lush red bath of light.
Ingrid Risk’s lighting design stands out in its beauty, elegance and perfect fit for every moment. D’Arcy Morris-Poultney’s set is well-detailed and establishes the economic distance between Birdy and Patricia with Birdy’s ho-hum livingroom stationed below a platform holding Patricia’s fancy over-stuffed chair, old-fashioned tea set and hanging chandelier.
Janet MacLellan’s costumes are as well-thought-out as the musical and other design choices aided by technical director Jocelyn Pringle. MacLellan gently moves Dell’s clothing from the sweat pants of a depressed woman to slimming pants and finally a skirt of confidence. Patricia wears autumnal colours in the final sweet scene.
The comedy is perfectly orchestrated in character and dialogue until the very end which is a whimper instead of a bang.
This story is intimate and small but its reach is wide. Is life short or is it little? Are war, politics and religion the stuff of life or is the essence of life something altogether different?
The point of view is Patricia’s. She talks directly to the audience, she is the one stalked by the grim reaper and she speculates about the meaning of life.
She tells Dell, who’d love to escape the world, that “we humans have to stick together.”
That’s no small thing.