Playwright makes prickly issues palatable
SIZE matters in Small Things, the new domestic drama by Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor, who seeks to illuminate how little connections can overcome big differences in people. In the subtly satisfying Prairie Theatre Exchange season-opener, Mrs. Branch, a reserved senior who has relocated to the country after her husband’s death, conducts a job interview with Birdy, a talkative, middleaged townie. She doesn’t appear to be a good fit as Mrs. Branch’s housekeeper, but gets the job anyway. It becomes apparent on the first day that the two women are natural opposites: One is a stand-offish, cultured, fashionable, well-spoken former teacher who is serious about maintaining the employer-employee divide. The other is a friendly, plain-speaking, working-class mother whose pride will not allow her to agree to wear a smock that will symbolize her subservience. The women don’t even speak the same language, as an irritated Mrs. Branch dresses down Birdy for her constant “prattle,” a word whose meaning she learns at home from her out-of-work daughter Dell, a mother of two boys. It’s a small world that MacIvor, in his fifth play for PTE, has created. Director Robert Metcalfe presents the business. Dell fills in for Birdy one day and Mrs. Branch, after her natural resistance to unwanted surprises, warms up to this earth mother, who seems to have a special power to feel what’s inside people. Soon Mrs. Branch takes an interest in both her weed and Alice (who is never seen). She mellows out, helps Dell find allies among school administrators for Alice and counsels a distraught Birdy, who wonders, “Can anything be easy?” Barbara Gordon easily inhabits Mrs. Branch, a woman who is initially buttoned up to the top of her sweater and only reveals her good heart when she sips wine or munches on marijuanasprinkled toast. Local actress Ellen Peterson has the tougher role as generational go-between and wrings much empathy and admiration from her nuanced performance as the well-meaning Birdy. Alissa Watson keeps up with her much more experienced castmates with a convincing portrayal of Dell, a student who has something to teach. The wonder of Small Things is the way MacIvor addresses prickly issues and makes them palatable and non-confrontational. The good time the responsive audience had watching Mrs. Branch get a buzz on suggests most would be in favour of legalizing marijuana. Even better, he won everyone’s support for Alice, no small achievement in today’s society.
Barbara Gordon (left) as Mrs. Branch and Ellen Peterson as housekeeper Birdy in the small-town drama Small Things.