Monday, November 19, 2012


Special to TorSun
19 NOV 2012
R: 4/5

Pictured: Pamela Sinha, Chick Reid, Irene Poole

Playwright John Mighton doesn't put time in a bottle, in the fashion dreamed of by balladeer Jim Croce. Instead, he mixes it with a lively discussion of art and humanity, then puts it under a microscope in a wonderful play titled THE LITTLE YEARS.

If that title sounds familiar, small wonder. Premiered on the stage of Theatre Passe Muraille in the '90s, the play was reworked for the Stratford Festival as part of its 2011 Studio season and now, it's made its way to the Tarragon, where it opened last week. This is however still, in many ways, the Stratford production, featuring the same director and designers,and many of the same actors. But an instrument as delicate as a Mighton play, it develops, can be changed in a big way by the smallest things, and while this treatise on art and time remains a deeply moving and thought-provoking piece, it seems oddly diminished.

Essentially, it is the story of two women — Kate (played as a precocious, prickly teenager by Bethany Jillard and as an increasingly broken adult by Irene Poole) and her sister-in-law Grace (played this time out by Pamela Sinha.) Born into a 1950's world on the cusp of feminism, both, as young women, yearn to change the world. Instead, in myriad ways, they find themselves changed by a world more inclined to embrace the facile contributions of William, Kate's brother and Grace's husband, whose presence looms large over their story although we never meet him.

By play's end, after rubbing up against a cast of characters that includes Kate's shallow, no-nonsense mother (Chick Reid), a popular artist (Ari Cohen) and a God-fearing school teacher (Victor Ertmanis), Kate and Grace see their dreams reborn in a new generation, as Tanya, Grace's daughter (played by Jillard as well) steps blithely into a new world.

This isn't just good theatre. It is also an intensely involving discussion on a veritable encyclopedia of topics as Mighton examines a whole range, all within the context of a rapidly evolving society. But in spinning out the tale on this new, larger stage, director Chris Abraham allows his love of Mighton's art to consume just a bit too much of our time, slowing the pace of his production not just to accommodate scene changes in this larger space but to savour some of the finer performance elements on display.

As she did in the Stratford incarnation, Poole turns in a gut-wrenching performance, certain to break all but the hardest hearts, capably supported by Reid and Jillard. Sinha, meanwhile, succeeds in bringing life to the character of Grace, but finally, one senses that, in much the same way as the stylish costumes designed for the character by Julie Fox seem to be wearing the actress instead of being worn by her, Sinha is wearing Grace instead of inhabiting her. Still, THE LITTLE YEARS is a big piece of theatre.

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