At Presentation House Theatre
333 Chesterfield Ave.
through May 28
Tickets $16/$11, 2-for-1 Tuesdays
Toronto playwright John Mighton always brings
his intellectual interests to the theatre. A lecturer in philosophy
and a Ph.D. in math, he has written clever plays about science
(Scientific Americans) and scientific speculation (Possible
made into a film by Robert Lepage).
Years, being given its West Coast
premiere by Sea Theatre, deals peripherally with math and indirectly
with the speculative notion that “a man’s
life includes much that does not take place within the boundaries of his body
and his mind,” according to the play’s epigraph. Unfortunately, Mighton
does nothing dramatically interesting with these subjects and creates a cast
of emotionally flat characters to explore them. The
Little Years is a little
play that offers little pleasure.
Its central character is a math whiz and
a scientific philosopher. Kate at age 13 (played by Cat Main) asks
questions like, “why do we remember the past
and not the future?” At the school dance she flirts with a boy by talking
relativity theory. This is 1950, and a smart, nonconformist girl who asks too
many questions and doesn’t abide by the rules will likely get ground up
by the system.
Sure enough, the school principal in collusion
with her mother (Lee Van Paassen in the play‘s most vibrant performance) has Kate transferred to a vocational
school. Her life, which we follow for another half century, is pretty much ruined.
For the rest of the play adult Kate (a purse-lipped Ruth McIntosh) will be angry,
bitter and anti-social.
Her surliness and the play’s downbeat tone have another source: her brother
William. He’s the golden boy and mother’s favourite. Fast-tracked
for success from childhood, and the subject of nearly every conversation in the
play to Kate’s chagrin, William becomes a somewhat famous poet, although
his wife Grace (Lucinda Nielsen) has an affair (with “the Barry Manilow
of painters“), and the obituaries at William’s death pan his poetry.
The most interesting thing about William
is that he never appears on stage. Only his ashes do, in a funeral
urn in the play’s funniest scene. Nice work
from Robin Mossley as the funeral director as well as the painter and the principal.
The subplot involving Grace and the painter
unaccountably takes centre stage for awhile in Act Two for no evident
reason, and at the end William
daughter Tanya (Sarah Beere) reveals that she intends to major in math. Let’s
hope she doesn’t turn into a boring grump like her aunt Kate.
Gary and Linda Chu’s garden patio set is pretty to look at, but director
Bill Devine drains what little energy is left in the play by stretching each
scene change into a half-lit, slow-paced mini-drama accompanied by Dorothy Dittrich’s
relentlessly melancholy piano. At only 85 minutes including intermission, The
Little Years is plenty long enough.