Prairie Theatre Exchange kicks off its 2014/15 season with a brand new play by Daniel MacIvor called Small Things. The whole play has a certain familiarity: an aging widow who’s a little cold and a little stuffy moves to the country and hires a woman who has also lost her husband and, in the middle years of her life, has to start working. The two have a clash of personalities as Birdy, the hired help, is the type of person who can’t stand silence and her boss, Patricia, can’t stand Birdy’s endless “prattle.” It wouldn’t be giving anything away to say that these two women find a way to co-exist harmoniously and even learn a thing or two from each other—the structure of the story in its simplicity telegraphs this from the outset.
What sets this play apart from the myriad stories of people of different stripes learning to live in harmony is MacIvor’s eye for distinct characters and his ear for whip-smart dialogue. The play never lags and never lets up. It’s a lean 70 minutes with a 15 minute intermission and the time flies by. The rotating stage at PTE allows for quick scene changes (and there are many) and the whimsical original score composed by Winnipegger Greg Lowe that plays between each changeover keeps the play’s energy at a steady clip.
Barbara Gordon as Patricia is outstanding. She’s an incredible actor and her comic timing is perfect. She’s one of those actors that can do amazing things with the white space on the page, by which I mean those sections of a script where there is no dialogue—she so embodies the character that she draws you in without saying anything.
There are plenty of genuinely funny moments in the play (Patricia high on marijuana comes immediately to mind) and there are an equal number of genuinely human moments. Both Birdy and Patricia are dealing with life after the loss of their husbands and both do so in unique ways. Patricia hides behind her cold front because she feels guilty at not really missing her husband. Birdy hides behind humour and chatter so as not to have to get at anything real. And Birdy’s daughter Dell uses marijuana as an escape from the bleakness of life.
While the main story is taken up with Birdy and Patricia learning to get along, the thing that I find most striking about this play is a subplot that deals with transgender issues. Birdy’s grandson has declared that he wants to be identified as Alice. Every time that Dell tries to talk to her mother about this, Birdy shuts down the conversation. Surprisingly, Dell receives encouragement and advice from Patricia who turns out to be a fairly progressive woman. I am encouraged to see transgender issues addressed on such a familial and realistic level in a play that deals with the difference between being a person and being a human.
Small Things runs from October 15 – November 2/2014 at PTE.
Post by Josh Benoit – Photo by Bruce Monk
Joshua Benoit is a freelance writer, musician with the local band, Pumas and videographer living in Winnipeg. He is passionate about food, philosophy, travel and Kurt Vonnegut. At one time he thought he wanted to be an optometrist but ultimately found more joy in words than in formulas, just as he derives more pleasure from whiskey than from soda.
His life goals are modest and include owning a dog with an aloof demeanor and a needy cat, publishing no less than eleven novels (some of them trash), and possibly raising children, though he’d settle for a weekly afterschool special in which he could impart his street-wise verbiage to the children of the world.
Joshua studied English and Film at the University of Manitoba and took his sweet time about getting his B.A. He now works for the Department of Education and is continuing his creative writing studies through the University of Toronto. To get in touch with Joshua, write to him at email@example.com