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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Review: Stellar - The Little Years

Bethany Jillard as young Kate.
Photo by Celia von Tiedemann.

The Little Years
By John Mighton
Directed by Chris Abraham
Featuring Irene Poole, Yanna McIntosh, Bethany Jillard, Chick Reid

The story: 14-year-old Kate has big thoughts about the nature of time but physics and sciences are not considered feminine in the 1950’s. Her scientific potential gets buried deep within her, turning her bitter, angry, and eventually clinically depressed as an adult. It is only through the persistence of her sister-in-law Grace, and Grace’s daughter Tanya, that Kate and her dreams begin to live.

The stage is a white-board of a canvas, reaching into the aisles. Four bright spotlights slowly change position to a soundscape of birds, an occasional plane, frogs, the wind and a low undercurrent of buzzing bass. Young Kate steps onto the stage, her face alight with wonder, listening. Older Kate also steps onto the stage, her face a mask of bitterness. The spotlights coalesce onto the younger girl, and the play begins.

Bethany Jillard plays young Kate (and later her own niece, Tanya). Young Kate is smart – scary smart. Far too smart for a patriarchal, Judeo-Christian school system of the 1950’s. Ms. Jillard is pitch-perfect as the na├»ve, socially awkward genius, lighting up when talking about time and physics, extinguished when teased, matter-of-fact and unsentimental about her brother’s poetry award and her father’s death – much to the perturbation of her mother.
Irene Poole as Kate.
Photo by Celia von Tiedemann

As the angry adult Kate, actor Irene Poole is by turns dynamic, secretive, and after being institutionalized where she received electric shock therapy and an experimental drug called ‘prozac’, she is a deadened, numb Kate, less ascerbic, but a shadow of her former self. Her sister-in-law Grace, played in name and bearing by Yanna McIntosh, is her constant supporter; her brother William of whom Kate is jealous, is ever-present in name only, a successful and famous writer. He is represented in body by the artist Roger (Evan Buliung) whose success also riles Kate, because he chases time through his art, yet is something he does not truly understand.

The nature of time is mentioned frequently in t he play. A clock is heard ticking, decades pass in seconds, a watch is engraved with “Forever”, a lover will return ‘in a minute’, squares of light swing back and forth on the stage like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, the characters age, some die. Reputations change with time – being the “Barry Manilow of painting” in the 1970’s is a lot better than being called the same in the 1990’s, especially when  the artist in question bothers to try to understand time, and it ruins him as a painter. Poets fall out of fashion, girls can study science. Kate feels her time has run out, but learns that the theory of time of which she has always been jealous  - linear - will not actually complete her. Kate’s time is relative – quantum time - she will be remembered, she inspired more than one person, and her life does have meaning. 

Part of quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that the act of observation influences the event they observe. It also affects the observer. Nowhere is this more true in live theatre – the enthusiasm of an audience is felt by the actors on stage, and they in return pour more into their performances, which moves the audience to joy or sadness. As Kate comes to her final revelation, Ms. Jillard, Ms. McIntosh and especially Ms. Poole create one of those moments in theatre that can lift and carry a person through their whole lives.

Irene Poole as Kate, Bethany Jillard as Tanya
Photo by Celia von Tiedemann

First performed at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1995, mathematics professor John Mighton has “rewritten and polished” his play that examines the intertwined strings of potential, immortality and time. Although one might think the subjects of Newtonian, linear, circular and quantum time more suited to the halls of academia, it is the heart-warming story of a woman crushed by the weight of her dreams who finds redemption that will appeal to all. The Little Years has a little run in a little theatre – it plays in repertory only until September 24 at the Studio Theatre. Get your tickets in time – that’s linear time, not quantum.

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