In The Little Years, Irene Poole plays a woman who loses her sense of amazement about life.
THE LITTLE YEARS by John Mighton, directed by Chris Abraham, with Hannah Anderson, Ari Cohen, Victor Ertmanis, Giacomo Gianniotti, Bethany Jillard, Irene Poole, Chick Reid and Pamela Sinha. Presented by the Tarragon (30 Bridgman). In previews through Tuesday (November 13), opens Wednesday (November 14) and runs to December 16, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday (November 17, 24, December 1 and 8) and Sunday 2:30 pm. $21-$53, some rush Friday and Sunday. 416-531-1827. See listing.
To many people, science and art inhabit different universes.
In the works of playwright John Mighton, they're complementary sides of our humanity.
The Little Years follows the life of Kate, whom we first see as a young girl in the 50s and later as a grown-up, thwarted by her mother, society and her own disillusionment from following the mysteries of science that fascinated her as a child.
A hit at the 2011 Stratford Festival, the evocative production makes its Toronto debut at the Tarragon.
"Kate's a highly intelligent young woman whose ideas of the world far surpass all she's learned in school," says Irene Poole, who plays the older Kate. "She's filled with a sense of wonder about the world - about time and space - but because she's forced to follow the period's acceptable female roles, Kate is kept from realizing her dreams.
"As a result, she gets lost, and her sense of amazement about life diminishes. Eventually she turns into someone who can barely cope in the world."
Over the course of the show, which covers some 50 years, Kate changes from a wide-eyed, open vessel to a guarded individual dealing with clinical depression.
Another part of the problem, notes Poole, is that her brother, William, is such an honoured individual, first by his adoring mother, Alice, and later in literary circles for his poetry.
Ironically, William himself is close to Kate; it's Alice who isn't.
"The mother-daughter relationship is a contentious one," admits Poole, who's spent several seasons at Stratford and won Doras for The Leisure Society and The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot. "Alice makes decisions that have a negative impact on Kate, such as sending her to vocational school, and rarely has a kind word for her. Even Alice's attempts at compliments have a sting."
Kate also has problems with her sister-in-law, Grace, "who believes she can fix Kate if only she throws enough love and attention her way. Kate resists Grace's efforts, but there's something beautiful about her unconditional love for Kate. Theirs is an enduring but not an easy relationship."
Poole is full of praise for Mighton's skill in blending emotion and scientific thought.
"The writing is so complex, sensitive and intelligent. So many things touched on in the first scene magically reappear, but in an unexpected way. The play is a wonderful exploration of the human mind and heart, of math, science and art, of hardcore theory discussed in a poetic fashion. Its characters are all touched by the passage of time.
"That's part of the script's beauty. You see everyone's life and ideas about themselves and others transformed by time; through the passage of time, the truth is finally revealed to each person. We can't see time work, but it changes everything that surrounds us. It's a pleasure to work on a show so dense with ideas and so emotionally resonant."
In the Stratford repertory system, she only performed The Little Years three times a week.
"I remember on performance days I'd wake up and have a knot in my stomach," she smiles, recalling the experience. "And though I've been away from it for nearly a year, coming back to rehearsals feels like putting on an old, worn sweater; it sits somewhere deep inside me for reasons I haven't yet figured out."
The Tarragon production features several new actors who, says Poole, bring a distinctive kind of breath to the piece. Rehearsing with them makes the company revisit scenes in a different way from the Stratford production.
"But I still have that knot in my stomach when we start a run."