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preview imageHOW IT WORKS
by Daniel MacIvor
Touchstone Theatre

Performance Works, Granville Island
Feb. 28-Mar. 9

Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Burnaby
Mar. 12-15

How It Works works. And how.  Daniel MacIvor has written a smart, funny, powerful, compassionate play about the agonies of adolescence and of parenthood, about the mistakes we make and the second chances we’re sometimes lucky enough to get.  Director Katrina Dunn and a stellar cast of Touchstone Theatre actors add polish to MacIvor’s jewel.

Here’s how it works: Al (Andrew Wheeler) is a Halifax cop, estranged from his elegant ex-wife, Donna (Katharine Venour).  Their 19-year-old daughter, Brooke (Anna Cummer), has a serious drug problem that Al can’t handle and that Donna tries to pretend doesn’t exist.  Al develops a romance with a down-home, blue-collar ex-nun, Christine (Kerry Sandomirsky), who offers to confront Brooke about her problem and find out the source of it.  That confrontation drives the play to its climax, but around it MacIvor builds a fascinating complex of relationships among all four characters, in the present and through fluidly integrated flashbacks. The ending, the future scenario Christine tells us she would like to imagine, is the most optimistic MacIvor has yet written.

Christine is the catalyst, the outsider who comes in and changes everything: a small-town straight-talker who likes her beer, her Trooper and her BTO.  The opening scene—Al and Christine’s first date—is hilarious, and Christine provides much of the best comedy.  But she also has her dark places. Sandomirsky gives a beautifully modulated performance, making Christine both the play’s most entertaining character and its voice of reason.

She also has real chemistry with Wheeler, whose Al is a decent, solid, likeable guy.  We want things to work out for him, especially after a flashback to a play—his first date with Donna—where a long-haired Al does what we’d all sometimes like to do in the face of pretentious art.

Cummer is also terrific as Brooke.  Looking remarkably like a young Jodie Foster, she maintains a luminous vulnerability as she shifts from the precocious adolescent who can hardly believe how stupid adults are (“Oh my god!”), to a desperate freaked-out junkie, hooked on drugs and her own emotional trauma.  Playing the least likable character, Venour struggles at first to make Donna seem real but settles in nicely towards the end.

Yvan Morissette’s set, a simple construction of risers and flats, effectively stands in for a bar, a kitchen, a bedroom, a police station, a theatre.  John Webber’s lighting helps mark the spatial transitions and time shifts. I especially liked Paul Moniz de Sá’s choice of music to cover those scene changes—lots of acoustic guitar and singer-songwriters, ending with Feist.  (Christine comes from Mushaboom.)

Jerry Wasserman