At Presentation House Theatre
333 Chesterfield Ave.
North Vancouver
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 Worlds, made into a film by Robert Lepage).

The Little 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 and Grace’s 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.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Thursday, May 19, 2005 10:25 AM
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