Play­wright makes prickly is­sues palat­able

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

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.

MELISSA TAIT / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Bar­bara Gor­don (left) as Mrs. Branch and Ellen Peter­son as house­keeper Birdy in the small-town drama Small Things.

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