AN ACRE OF TIME by Jason Sherman, directed by Brian Quirt, with Susan Coyne, Pierre Brault, Timothy Hill, David Jansen, Lisa Norton and Kristen van Ginhoven. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to April 15, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday and Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$29, Sunday pwyc. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
burying the dead involves more than earth and caskets, and the bodies in them. Sometimes it's memories that must be put to rest and let go. That's the hard lesson for Julia (Susan Coyne), a government land surveyor and the central figure in Jason Sherman's entertaining if not quite fully realized play An Acre Of Time.
Sherman's taken Phil Jenkins's book -- a social history of the LeBreton Flats on the Ottawa River -- and given it dramatic life, using Julia as the human magnet who attracts the lively ghosts inhabiting the land she's measuring. Native figures, explorer Samuel de Champlain, an 18th-century surveyor and various French, Irish and Jewish settlers fill her mind as she deals with a personal tragedy associated with the same plot of land.
Woven into the historic are characters from Julia's own past and present, and director Brian Quirt, doing some of his best work in years, lends the figures a strong three-dimensional theatricality. The cast, all but Coyne playing several roles, morph nimbly from one role to another, changing time and context with the help of Paul Mathiesen's evocative lighting on Carolyn M. Smith's thrust set. David Jansen does the sharpest work, with other strong moments from Pierre Brault and Kristen van Ginhoven in a script filled with wit and comedy.
But the emotions are underdeveloped. Fair enough that Julia pushes down and ignores her pain for much of the play, but the payoff at the end isn't clearly earned. In the process of surveying the history of Julia and those who preceded her on the flats, the show's emotional life has been mathematically sketched and boxed in, not clearly revealed.