Review: Small Things

FINAL GRADE: A-

Mulgrave Road Theatre brings Halifax the Atlantic premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s Small Things, starring Heather Rankin, Jenny Munday, and Stephanie MacDonald and directed by MacIvor.

Small Things is the story of Birdy (Rankin), a recently widowed woman who starts a new job as a home care worker for the cold and formal Patricia (Munday). Rounding out the cast is MacDonald as Dell, Birdy’s daughter who helps the two older women develop their relationship.

Something that struck me immediately was how perfect the costuming is. The picture that costume designer Kathryn McLellan paints is so beautifully whole — the characters are entirely distinct from one another. One look at each and you just know who they are.

Another high point was the use of transitions. With the stage dark with the exception of a plain cyclorama coloured by upstage lights, the characters are reduced to silhouettes. Their movements and set dressing creates the sense of a real-time montage as the audience looks on. In the background piano melodies play — plenty of Schubert, with some Regina Spektor and I believe a Yael Naim instrumental.

One criticism I have is its staging — there were multiple points in which characters would leap with seemingly no reason from their seats and look at an unknown something on the fourth wall. It was unnatural; often unprompted. Of course, the dynamism is needed in a show which takes place in two living rooms, as those spaces doesn’t naturally allow for much movement.

There were points when I wanted shout “What are you looking at? What could POSSIBLY be so interesting that you had to stand up to take a better look?!”

While the main plot of the play is the conflict between stiff, wealthy elderly Patricia, the chatty, oblivious Baby Boomer Birdy, and the new-age believing, medical marijuana-advocating Gen X-er Dell, there is a secondary story about Dell’s young child, Alice, assigned male at birth and affirming themself through a new name.

When I see cis theatre that tackles issues of gender identity, my instinct is to be defensive and picky, and from the first mention of Dell’s “son” Alice, I was ready to tear this to shreds. I’m pleased that I don’t find that necessary. The conflict in this plot is between Dell and Birdy — Dell is confused and exasperated while supportive, and Birdy dismisses Alice as a phase.

When she eventually breaks, telling Dell that it isn’t fair for Alice, it was like my heart was in a blender. This statement comes from such a sincere place of love. Identity isn’t fair to anyone.

(Personal digression ahead) When I came out as Trans, my mom cried and cried, not from a place of rejection or hatred, but from she expected from society — that I would have limited opportunities and face violence and discrimination. God, you nailed this, MacIvor. Kudos.

I think it’s an interesting commentary on how millennials have so much more choice over themselves than previous generations — Birdy’s disapproval over Alice isn’t from a place of hatred, it’s projection. She feels disempowered by her lack of agency in her own life. The theme is female agency and self-determination is recurrent in Small Things, handled with grace and tact.

If you have no other reason to see Small Things, see it for Jenny Munday discovering the magic of edibles (although I have it in fairly strong authority that sprinkling weed on toast isn’t a thing). Jenny, if you see this, I’d love to light one up with you.

Small Things plays at the Scotiabank Studio at Neptune Theatre until November 13.

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